GPs have raised ethical concerns after the online community Doctors.net.uk was bought for a reported £13 million by the US marketing company M3 USA.
Doctors.net.uk was created ‘for doctors, by doctors’ in 1998 and now has 184,000 members, but was bought by M3 USA this week.
The US-based marketing company is largely unknown, but according to its website: ‘provides the life science industry with highly targeted interactive marketing, education, content, and research solutions’.
Aki Tomaru, CEO of M3 USA said: ‘The addition of Doctors.net.uk is a powerful expansion of our commitment to providing the pharmaceutical industry full global access’.
‘The demand for pharmaceutical digital marketing services in the UK market is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years and this acquisition will place M3 at the leading position to benefit from the growth. This acquisition will also be a nice stepping stone for M3 to expand into the countries in the European Union’.
But the announcement has caused concern among GPs. Dr Una Coales, a GP in Stockwell, South London, said Doctors.net.uk users were annoyed that they didn’t give their consent before the forum was sold.
She said: ‘The sale means only one thing; the obvious. Big Pharma want access to 180,000 UK doctors to perhaps influence prescribing.’
‘£13 million up front implies M3 USA are expecting to make a huge return on their expensive acquisition. Doctors who access Doctors.net.uk should be made aware of this potential conflict of interest to their ethical duty.’
But Richard Adams, the CEO of Doctors.net.uk said the sale gave Doctors.net.uk ‘tremendous resources’ to further develop.
‘We will be integrating some of the M3 solutions that are successful in the US and Japan. We also believe that we will be able to contribute to the development of rest of the M3 Group, as some of the solutions we’ve built in the UK can be transferable to them,’ he said.