It used to be that doctors only needed to worry about having colleagues second-guess them. These days, what with health information being so abundantly available on the Internet, and with more than half of all patients accessing that information when they need treatment, doctors find that they need to stay on top of recent developments more than ever before. Of all the places on the Internet that people head to for medical information, trusted social networks feature on top – places where one can consult with friends and relatives on what to expect of a health problem. With so many potential customers on the social networks, drug companies would give anything to have a say there; if only government rules would allow them.

The problem is, the Web 2.0 medium has developed so fast, that government regulations haven’t really caught up with how to deal with them. Only recently, the FDA in the US got a meeting together for about about a thousand members of the drug industry, to raise ideas about how best to deal with Facebook, Twitter and the like. Many people in the industry feel that there is not much hope for whatever comes out of these planned meetings. Indeed, new policies are not due to arrive for another 6 to 8 months.

Why is it that the drug companies fret so much over this? To begin with, people are used to trusting what they read, having been made bold by all these years of regulated error-free information on television and in print. People don’t realize that medical information on the Internet is completely unregulated, and anyone can just put out information that is misleading or downright fraudulent. The major pharmaceutical companies have no way of making sure they don’t lose customers to disinformation. The pharmaceutical industry needs to spend billions on magazine and television ads, to counter the disinformation on the Internet. When the drug companies did try to put out small Internet ads earlier this year, the government asked them to make the advertisements more information packed- or to pull the ads. In the absence of good information, people don’t wait for the government to get Its act together. They just seek out bad information.