Commercial Pharma and EHR – State of the Industry

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With federal financial incentives to install electronic health record systems, more and more physicians are beginning to integrate these tools into their practices. In fact, in 2005 it is estimated that only 30% of HCP offices and hospitals utilized these tools; by 2011 usage increased to 50% for physicians and 75% for hospitals. And today, the numbers continue to grow, as starting in 2015, physicians will face penalties for not demonstrating “meaningful use” of EHRs.

Still, the EHR industry is nascent, with an estimated 400 companies vying for physician attention, and the majority having less than 2% market share. While consolidation is expected over time, exactly how and when pharma engages with and utilizes EHR vendors is a timely question.

One point to keep in mind is that the Pharma commercial team is accustomed to being the customer and focus of third party, syndicated data providers, like IMS. While the data is expensive, it is already aggregated, formatted and sold to pharma in data sets that the industry knows how to use (think Rx sales or payer data).

With the EHR industry, the model is much different. EHR vendors view their customers as the hospitals and HCP offices (the health systems), not pharmaceutical companies – and, they are still in the process of developing and rolling out their software. They design their software to support health system needs first, and with 400 of them, the data standards and offerings may differ from company to company. In 2012, the federal government stepped in with its Big Data Research and Development Initiative to create data standards, at least as the data pertains to federal use. Still, the industry has not reached the point where the data is amassed and resold, although a few companies are beginning to move in this direction, in limited therapeutic areas where they have decent coverage.

So, how can the pharma commercial team work with EHR vendors, both today and tomorrow? First, with so much focus from payers on cost, physicians are becoming more and more aware of what the drug is actually going to cost the patient. Confirming your drugs and formulary information are correctly entered into the EHR e-prescribing system enables the HCP to make informed decisions. Have a co-pay coupon? Ensure that is captured as well. Physicians want to reduce each patient’s out of pocket cost as much as possible.

Second and related to above, over time these systems will have the capabilities to show drug efficacy and clinical data about your product, particularly as they support improved outcomes and compliance. Brand managers will want to provide this information to the vendor and also ensure it ties to the message the sales rep is detailing during sales calls.

Third, another area to consider is sponsored advertising on the EHR system. This particular area is somewhat controversial, as many doctors do not want to see advertisements on the screen as they go about their work. For EHR vendors that offer their system for free, they typically are supported by Google-like targeted ads based upon keywords in the patient’s record. Still, ads can be delicately embedded into the HCP’s digital workflow – for example, if the HCP is evaluating various drugs, the information is presented as a resource to support the decision making process. Or with one click, a physician can order free drug samples. The point is to be viewed more as meaningful “sponsored content” rather than simply “ads.”

Finally, by beginning the process of working with EHR vendors now, pharma can get ahead of the game, develop an EHR digital channel strategy, begin forming important vendor relationships, and perhaps influence the direction these tools take in the future. As one example, we know of one leading vendor that is starting to sell aggregated population trend data on such areas as prescribing behaviors, patient demographics and diagnoses trends – something every marketer would want to know. That said, when evaluating these data sets, one needs to ascertain how big the pool of data is and where the gaps in coverage are.

As more health systems come online and vendors consolidate, it’s an exciting time to plan for an additional way of marketing, analyzing different data streams and driving towards commercial sales success.

Interested in learning more? Download this case study to find out Daiichi-Sankyo integrated all of their data in on easy-to-access solution, slashing time and boosting performance.