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By Brian Bamberger, Life Sciences Practice Lead
The electronic health record (EHR) market is a work in progress. On one hand, EHR adoption is more widespread than ever before. According to government data, almost eight in 10 office-based physicians reported adopting some type of EHR system and roughly half had an EHR system with advanced functionalities. Nearly all physician practices and hospitals are expected to utilize EHRs in the near future. On the other hand, physicians are not happy with their EHRs. As one survey pointed out, user dissatisfaction is at an all-time high due to cumbersome processes, interoperability issues and limited features that do not fit into everyday work flow or meet the needs of specific patient mixes. Physicians want EHRs with content and features that enhance patient care, engage their patients, reflect the requirements of their patient mix and specialty and fit into their work flow. On top of that, EHR market fragmentation is epic (note lowercase!), resulting in many small players trying to maintain their foothold in a world where practices are being gobbled up.
So, how can pharmaceutical manufacturers use this knowledge to improve marketing to physicians? As national experts in health information technology (health IT) and its use in the pharmaceutical space, Point-of-Care Partners (POCP) offers five tips to pharmaceutical manufacturers for capitalizing on the changes and challenges in today’s EHR market.
1. Embrace EHRs. Despite the challenges of EHR usability and dissatisfaction on the part of many providers, EHRs are here to stay. Some of that has to do with government mandates, such as the meaningful use incentive program. At the same time, public and private insurers have increasing requirements to use EHRs to capture patient and quality-related data and report metrics for pay-for-performance. In short, EHRs are rapidly becoming the center of physicians – work environment – from diagnosis to electronic prescribing (ePrescribing), patient education and more. To be sure, pharmaceutical manufacturers have looked at online promotion for the sexier side of digital health care, such as tablets, smartphones, wearables and other mobile devices. However, the jury is still out on their marketing return on investment, while the bread-and-butter aspects of EHRs in physician practices have tended to be overlooked or downplayed. Pharmaceutical manufacturers need to embrace today’s EHR reality by building them in as a key piece of integrated marketing strategies using marketing materials and sales efforts customized by EHRs.
2. Take advantage of EHR market fragmentation. There are roughly 700 EHR vendors out there. While consolidation is happening, it will not result anytime soon in a handful of EHRs, as many pharmaceutical marketers are hoping. Moreover, there is huge market fragmentation. According to a recent Wells Fargo analysis, the ambulatory market is not only fragmented as a whole, it is fragmented regionally: there is no dominant vendor in about 60% of metropolitan statistical areas, which contain about 75% of the US population. And yes, there are a significant number of EHR vendors that normally dont interact with pharmaceutical manufacturers. Savvy pharmaceutical marketers can take advantage of this situation and utilize their own marketing sales resources to reach these practices. How? This market fragmentation creates opportunities for engaging vendors to develop features within the physician work flow that would enhance such features as ePrescribing, patient education and medication adherence – all of which are of value to both physicians and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
3. Help physicians implement existing EHR features. Surprisingly, many EHRs already include features that physicians want – they just need to be activated. This creates the opportunity for creating new relationships with physicians, which can be a building block for future relationships and create trust. It also gets pharmaceutical representatives some valuable face time with physician clients, who will consider this assistance as a definite value-add and something on which they can rely in the future.
4. Leverage EHRs as a clinically oriented tool. EHRs represent an opportunity for sending clinical content and messaging directly to physicians. For example, EHRs drive physician decision making in large practices in terms of creating order sets, standardized treatment protocols and standards of care, all of which can be influenced by pharmaceutical manufacturers and may feature branded products, when appropriate. EHRs can also drive quality improvement by assessing medication adherence through monitoring patient refill requests. Improving medication adherence is a win-win for physicians, patients, payers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. ePrescribing – now primarily done through EHRs – creates a channel for brand and clinical messaging at the point of prescribing. In short, physicians want clinically oriented content and EHRs offer a platform to provide it to them when configured properly. Physicians perceive such information as a value-add and it touches them directly in a positive way with information about the company and branded products.
5. Use EHRs to promote patient engagement. Patient engagement is gaining traction because public and private insurers are requiring it and physicians recognize it as a way to improve quality and outcomes, both of which are very important in guiding how they practice and are reimbursed. Branded patient websites are the traditional approach used by pharmaceutical manufacturers to establish a relationship with patients for branded products. However, websites lie outside the physician work flow and can be off-putting to patients, who frequently lack the ability and desire to find a particular site and log in. Moreover, from the patients’ perspective, websites lack the credibility of their direct relationship with their physician. This creates the opportunity for pharmaceutical manufacturers to repurpose current educational content for the physician to use during and after the visit to strengthen the relationship between the practice staff and patients. This will enhance the brand’s relationship with the physician and the patient, as well as provide needed, credible information in a user-friendly way. While EHRs offer a fine base of educational materials, patients suffering from chronic conditions may have only a few pieces of information about a condition they may have for decades. The pharmaceutical industry can do more to help physicians educate patients, and the EHR – with its patient portal – can be an important tool.
Even though the EHR market is evolving rapidly in many directions, opportunities exist for pharmaceutical manufacturers to use EHRs to create new relationships with physicians and patients. POCP is actively helping companies create short-term and multiyear strategies and accompanying tactics. How can POCP help you?