EHRs are spreading, but they're not yet part of the everyday brand toolbox

Digital Patient Graphic
EHR adoption is growing, but its use as a strategic communications tool by pharma is still in the early stages.

For an illustration of the growth in electronic health records, look no further than Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide.

Last year, its EHR practice had two employees; this year it has 22. Last year, it was working with eight brands on EHR communication strategies; this year it’s working with 65.

Those figures mirror overall EHR growth, too. PracticeFusion notes that by the end of this year, 90% of office-based physicians in the U.S. will be using an EHR system. Doctors now spend more than 50% of their day on EHRs.

Yet while adoption rates of EHR systems are well past the tipping point, the use of EHRs as strategic communication tools is still nascent, Ritesh Patel, chief digital officer at WPP Health & Wellness, said at Ogilvy CommonHealth's second annual EHR summit last week in New Jersey. 

“One client said it’s no different than four years ago when social media first appeared and I had to go in front of medical and legal to show them social media. This is not too dissimilar of an approach; it’s just a new channel and a new way of connecting to your customer, in this case healthcare providers,” Patel said.

EHR thinking seems to fall into two mindsets, he said: pharma brand managers, who see them as part of the overall brand strategy, and those who use the channel as an add-on to media plans, placing banner ads. Ogilvy CommonHealth is working with believers in the first camp, while trying to convert the media-buy-only clients.

“Unless you focus it from a strategic perspective, it will become no different than the banner ad graveyard that’s on the web. Those who approach it only as a media tool will see their engagement rates spiral down fairly quickly because the doctor will just ignore the message,” Patel said.

Other changes in EHRs over the last year, and continuing through this year, include broader use of EHR data to target for clinical trials; growing vendor consolidation; discovery and experimentation around other uses for EHRs; and growing interoperability with other systems within a practice or hospital.

“As EHRs become more dominant across the workflows, not just the doctors but in other departments, we’re looking to see what else we can do with them,” Patel said.

Ogilvy CommonHealth plans to continue growing its practice, including new hires. It's also looking at new ways to approach EHR use; it recently announced a formal partnership with InTouchMD that will focus on Percept, the rules-based engine for EHR programs that the two have developed.