Product Endorsement

Table Discussion

In groups of 3-4:

1. Read the case study and consider your response to the Essential Question(s) posed below.

2. Discuss each question below with your group, using the linked resources to support your responses.

3. Take notes on your discussion to share when the large group reconvenes.

  • Crowd-sourced medical information
  • Personal/professional affiliations
  • Implications of public social media accounts
  • Professional relationships with stakeholders

By the end of this workshop and upon further reflection, students will ...

  1. Discuss how professional credentials play out in online spaces
  2. Examine the relationship between one's professional and personal online presence
  3. Identify how tensions between civil freedoms and professional obligations apply to online platforms

As you read the case, consider your response to the question:

What are the key differences and similarities between in-person and online outreach?

Blogger on Laptop.jpg

Anita is a recent graduate of the UBC Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) Program. She was a high-achieving student during her time at UBC, and was well-liked by her peers and professors. Hoping to live and work in Vancouver after graduation, Anita was fortunate to land a job at an independent pharmacy in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood called "Your Pharmacy." Her colleagues and patients are friendly and supportive, and Anita feels very fortunate to work in such a nurturing environment.

During her undergraduate degree, and subsequent time in the PharmD Program, she amassed a large social media following, particularly on her public Instagram account, which presently has 3K followers. Her account, with the username @PharmacistAnita, is dedicated to promoting health and fitness. Typical posts on Anita’s Instagram include yoga recommendations, homemade protein shakes and vegan recipes, and workout videos. In addition to her username, her Instagram bio reads the following:

Vancouver-based pharmacist dedicated to promoting daily wellness | Based at "Your Pharmacy"

For Anita, her Instagram account was her outlet during periods of high stress in the PharmD Program. In addition to providing her with a creative outlet, the platform also allowed her to connect to, and befriend, other health and fitness Instagrammers in Vancouver. Presently, her account's popularity also enables her to meet and connect with her followers while at work. Young customers often come into "Your Pharmacy" and recognise Anita from her Instagram account. Anita enjoys these interactions, and feels she is making a positive impact by promoting healthy habits.

Recently, Anita has been approached by several brands—spanning the industries of fitness, skincare, and supplements to endorse their products on her account. She typically accepts these endorsements, as having the extra income helps offset the high cost of living in Vancouver. They also provide her with the opportunity to try new products for free; she is sure not to endorse products that she does not use herself.  

One day, Anita is approached by a well-known vitamin and supplement subscription company. Anita is initially hesitant about endorsing their products, as she is aware that certain vitamins and supplements can interact with medications, which can have consequences ranging from reduced effectiveness of medications to other dire effects. Additionally, she has heard pharmacists discuss their worries that certain supplement companies are making claims that lack scientific evidence. After thinking it over for a few days, she ultimately decides to accept the endorsement and post about the company, resolving that people who follow her are informed about their personal health, and can look up interactions between medications themselves, or will seek advice from a pharmacist to check for medication interactions.

On a day when Anita is not working at her pharmacy, her supervisor, Emmet, is approached by a young patient, who follows Anita on Instagram. The patient shares that their hypothyroidism symptoms have worsened, and that they wonders if their dose of levothyroxine should be increased. Emmet conducts a comprehensive medication review and upon further questioning, finds out that they have been taking vitamins containing calcium and iron concomitantly with the levothyroxine. The patient shares that they have recently subscribed to the vitamin and supplement company that Anita recommended.

Surprised to hear that Anita has endorsed this company, Emmet explains to the patient that taking iron and calcium at the same time as levothyroxine can inhibit the proper absorption of the T4 hormone. This means that the patient is not getting the proper dose of their medication, which is resulting in their hypothyroidism worsening. Emmet tells the patient that they should have consulted a physician or pharmacist before starting these supplements. The patient responds that because Anita, a pharmacist, had endorsed the company, they thought it was safe to take them. Emmet feels uneasy about Anita endorsing this vitamin subscription company, both as a pharmacist and as an employee of their Pharmacy.  

During Anita’s next shift, Emmet discusses the situation with her. He states that endorsing the vitamin and supplement company, while also having a public affiliation with "Your Pharmacy," does not reflect their organization's values. Emmet adds that the supplements may harm patients if they start taking them without consulting a healthcare professional.

Anita feels a combination of guilt and defensiveness: she understands that the company is not promoted by the pharmacy, but also feels she has a right to support brands outside of work. She has also already accepted monetary support from the company, and will be in violation of the agreement she signed with the company if she deletes the post.

Anita is worried she will be fired as a result of the incident. Additionally, if she is not fired, she is concerned that Emmet will be skeptical about her priorities and dedication to the profession.

  1. Can your personal and professional personas be separated online? Would this situation have been different if Anita had not noted her institutional affiliation, or profession, on her accounts? Why or why not?
  2. As non-experts increasingly create and access user-generated medical knowledge in digital spaces, what role do you think pharmacists play in asserting evidenced-based advice online?
  3. How might using your professional credentials while discussing health products online benefit patients? What are the drawbacks of engaging in participatory healthcare through the Internet?
Some rights reserved Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document according to the terms in Creative Commons License, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0. The full text of this license may be found here: CC by-sa 4.0 Attribution-Share-a-like

When re-using this resource, please attribute as follows: developed by the University of British Columbia: Digital Tattoo – Case Studies Project Team.


Post Image: Student typing keyboard text by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay (Pixabay license)

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