Ogilvy CommonHealth takes deep dive on EHR as a marketing strategy for pharma clients

Should pharma marketers be more jazzed about the electronic health record industry? It's new, it's growing fast, and it has a direct line into doctors' offices.

But it's also very fragmented. Depending on who’s counting, there are anywhere from more than 245 to more than 500 EHR providers.

That makes it tough for pharma marketers who'd like to use the platform to reach doctors directly. And in light of pharma companies’ dwindling traditional access to physicians, the ability to reach doctors several times daily--and when they’re in prescribing mode to boot--is extremely attractive. Studies show that 80% of office-based physicians used EHRs in 2015, and on average, spent 3.3 hours per day there. Even more encouraging was that 56% of U.S. doctors reported interest in content provided by pharma via EHRs.

Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide recently held a seminar for its pharma and healthcare clients to talk about the potential for EHR communications. Presenter after presenter noted not only the value of EHRs but also that using them needs to be thought of as a strategy, not just a tactic or channel.

One product manager from a leading pharmacutical noted just that in a case study presentation for one of its hospital antibiotics.The pharma wanted to remind providers about the drug at the point of case, and EHR was its strategy.

Beginning with 320 hospital targets, the pharma company and its distribution partners found 192 active EHR systems users and targeted messages to them. The results were more than encouraging. The EHR program achieved a 28% engagement rate with physicians in the first month, followed by 36% and 26% in the following two--the first three of an ongoing 6-month campaign.

The closed system of EHRs, whether cloud-based or enterprise software, means the marketing and communications from pharma to physicians are not scattershot web ads, but much more targeted inside communications that can inform doctors at a critical moment.

“We’ve had a lot of questions from our customers (pharma companies) asking ‘can I do this and is it possible or not?’ … If it becomes the play of the banner ads, we’ll end up with the internet on EHRs and that’s not what this is,” said Ritesh Patel, EVP and chief digital officer at Ogilvy CommonHealth. “It’s not just about product messages, but also messages about education or pipeline drugs or presenting data to physicians, which now goes to strategy.”

Practice Fusion, a cloud-based EHR provider, offered an example in which it launched an obesity clinical decision support program. The EHR notified physicians with messages at the point of care about recording patients' BMI stats and, if high, noting a treatment plan. The program reached more than 50,000 physicians and 3.7 million patients resulting in 25,000+ more patient plans, which was a 5-fold increase. 

As Dorothy Gemmell, Practice Fusion's senior VP of life science practice and strategic partnerships, noted, “As healthcare moves from volume-based to value-based, novel solutions are needed to drive better outcomes,” adding that the data “will eventually help identify how certain treatment plans may improve weight management.”

The growth of EHRs--including efforts such as the drive to e-prescriptions led by substance abuse prevention efforts, which will result in 2 billion scripts sent electronically this year--means it's growing in importance as a marketing strategy and that pharma needs to start experimenting, the presenters agreed.

“You’re not too late today, but you will be by this time next year,” said Will Febbo, CEO of EHR service provider OptimizeRx.

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Photo by NEC Corporation of America under a Creative Commons license.