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Lies, Damn Lies, and Swine Flu Marketing Claims

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, November 11, 2009

Education is the obvious answer, but healthcare organizations are already overwhelmed with calls and visits from worried consumers. So look to online to help spread the message.

Some suggestions:

  • Link to FDA warnings about bogus products on your home page—in a prominent location. The agency has even created a neat little widget you can place on your site to help your staff and consumers identify fraudulent H1N1 products. Other widgets, including an H1N1 news feed and a map of the U.S. that shows state-specific flu information, can be found on the HHS flu widget page.
  • If you're not into widgets, you can link to the FDA's Fraudulent 2009 H1N1 Influenza Products List.
  • While you're at it, link to the FDA H1N1 Flu Page and www.Flu.gov.
  • Consider setting up a Twitter feed (branded to your healthcare organization, of course) or a Facebook group that not only pushes out articles and information about H1N1, but also answers consumers' questions. For the latter, you'd need to monitor the site in order to respond promptly. And make it easy for searchers to find you on Twitter by adding the hashtag #H1N1 or #swineflu to each of your posts.
  • Alternately, if you already have a Twitter feed (and one is quite enough, thank you), follow and re-tweet accounts set up to share H1N1 news. (Find them by searching for the hashtags above.
  • Don't forget to position your physicians as experts on the topic. Consider adding video or other content on your Web site, blogs, and social networking sites of one of your physicians helping consumers to sort out the facts versus the fiction of the H1N1 virus.

In a letter to healthcare professionals yesterday, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, acknowledged "delays in vaccine delivery and the persistence of myths about vaccination" and offered talking points for explaining to patients that H1N1 vaccines are "the best tools we have to prevent severe illness and death caused by the virus."

I'd argue accurate, easy-to-understand, and easy-to-access information is an important tool, too.


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