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How EHRs Can Help Pharma Deliver Value Beyond the Pill

Intouch Team

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By now, nearly all of us have been personally exposed to electronic health records (EHR), also known as electronic medical records (EMR), within the context of our own healthcare. But as marketers, I’m not sure we are up to speed at understanding them and their implications for our work.

Craig DeLarge, Merck’s global leader of multichannel marketing strategy and innovation, agreed recently in MM&M, saying, “EHRs will become the dominant context for physicians. We've been slow to internalize the idea and engage in the EHR format.” As noted by Bayer HealthCare’s David Zied in the PDR’s Pink Sheet, “physicians are ‘married to their EHRs’ much like business executives are attached to Microsoft’s Outlook software.”

It’s been harder and harder for sales reps to get in front of physicians over the last couple of decades, but the vast majority of docs spend a good part of their work day with their noses in EHRs, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which required 70% of primary care providers to be on EHRs by the end of this year. (As an aside, many think EHRs came about as a result of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, but that’s not actually the case.) As the Health Resources and Services Administration puts it, “Starting in 2015, providers are expected to have adopted and be actively utilizing an EHR in compliance with the ‘meaningful use’ definition or they will be subject to financial penalties under Medicare.”

The real opportunity of EHRs, however, is not just their position in the workflow, but the data they carry.

Consider advertising that could be tailored based not simply upon the profile of the patient or the disease being diagnosed, but based on more complex analyses — ads that could target based upon a patient’s history, lifestyle, family members or previous medications. Well-placed EHR ads could help prescribers be aware of new treatments and new indications.

But taking that one step further, EHR ad placements should take advantage of opportunities “beyond the pill.”

Patient records help doctors understand what decisions can help their patients. An irrelevant message will, at best, be ignored and, at worst, actively annoy. It’s the perfect time, though, to offer something meaningful — a service that can help the doctor and the patient by strengthening their relationship; helping the patient be compliant and adherent; providing patient education, such as injection training; tracking symptoms; connecting the patient to peer support. These are the kinds of things a doctor can offer the patient to the benefit of both.

There are plenty of reasons to consider EHR marketing, but it may not be that simple. Most systems are new, and for-profit partnerships are untried. And while EHR technology vendors realize they’ve become pharma marketers’ holy grail, their customers aren’t really the doctors and staff who use them – but rather insurance company CIOs. As such, pharma’s HCP-focused needs won’t always align perfectly with EHR strategic direction.

Moreover, there are hundreds of EHR systems — though whether this is problem or opportunity depends upon your thinking. On the one hand, there definitely aren’t industry-wide approaches, and no one single EHR system has broad coverage. On the other hand, the opportunity to find a manageable-sized EHR right for your brand and willing to collaborate on a pilot program may be easier than in a monopoly situation.

To make your brand impact in an EHR environment, consider services that relate to news updates, clinical trial activities, patient support and other complementary services. As Faruk Capan, CEO of Intouch Solutions, recently stated, “We must make sure what we offer through EHR has three attributes: value, relevance and timeliness. Without those, it’s just another static ad that doctors will ignore.”

We’ve been talking about going “beyond the pill” for years. EHRs give us the opportunity to actually get there.

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