Sandbox:Digital Tattoo Case Studies Project/Pharmacy/Case 4, Product Endorsement

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Case Study 4: 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.

Themes Addressed

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

Learning Outcomes

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

Essential Question

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 natural remedies - 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 particularly well-known brand of diet teas. Anita is initially hesitant about endorsing their products, as she is aware of the lack of scientific evidence associated with popular weight-loss teas. After thinking it over for a few days, she ultimately decides to accept the endorsement and post about the tea, resolving that one post will likely be inconsequential.

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 asks if the pharmacy carries the particular brand of diet tea Anita is endorsing. Having never heard of it, Emmet immediately investigates, only to discover that the diet tea is senna tea, a laxative, with other natural ingredients, branded as a quick weight-loss measure. Emmet feels uneasy about Anita endorsing the tea as both a pharmacist an employee of their Pharmacy.

During Anita’s next shift, Emmet discusses the situation with her. He states that endorsing the tea, while also having a public affiliation with "Your Pharmacy," does not reflect their organisation's values. Emmet adds that the tea may also harm patients by causing adverse effects such as diarrhoea and abdominal cramps.

Anita feels a combination of guilt and defensiveness: she understands that the product 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 tea company, and will be in violation of the agreement she signed with the tea company if she deletes the post.

Anita is unsure if this incident is grounds for her termination from the pharmacy. Additionally, if she is not fired, she is worried that Emmet will feel wary of her as a result of the incident. She is also concerned that he will be skeptical about her priorities and dedication to the profession.

Discussion Questions

  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?

Open Access Scholarly Material