Consider the Customer Before the Technology

I’m worried for pharma. Tech companies, health systems, payers, and venture capital are all focused on using IT to improve healthcare and decrease costs—and are making progress—but I am starting to see pharma being left behind, overlooked, or even locked out of these advancements. Other stakeholders are planning programs that first focus on meeting a physician need, by providing information or streamlining a tedious workflow. In comparison, many of pharma’s digital teams are thinking so hard about how they themselves can use EHRs as a marketing channel that they ignore their customers’ use of EHRs as a clinical tool.

Now, I’m not saying that your messaging efforts in EHRs aren’t valuable. When done right, EHR messaging certainly has a place in a solid commercial plan, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’ll quickly lose the opportunity to represent your interests in this evolving landscape.

It comes back to our idea of the “Essential Digital,” those tools and pathways that make up the foundation of clinical practice. If you aren’t thinking about improving an HCP’s access to reliable, useful information, you’re at risk of falling into siloed irrelevance while other industry stakeholders advance farther and faster by working together to address needs that providers consider more important.

One of the things I like best about my work is having the chance to speak with doctors about the ways they are using technology in their day-to-day practice. We interview and survey HCPs regularly, and I hear about what IT advancements are exciting to them, where they want more support, and what they really think about your manufacturer-supported digital programs.

Based on real feedback from real physicians, here are a few technology pain points that pharma should start considering today:

1. Prescribers may not be getting enough information about your drug from their EHRs.

Some e-prescribing databases provide the HCP with common prescribing options, such as a default SIG or product-specific drop-down lists of frequencies, durations, and dosages. However, a surprising number of EHRs provide only the available dose forms, leaving the prescriber wondering if your 5mg tablet is meant to be taken as one tab three times a day or three tabs every other full moon.

If you’re not taking steps to identify and address these information gaps, both through proactive planning and close monitoring of the EHR end-user experience, you may be losing prescriptions to drugs that are “easier” to prescribe because of the way they appear in the prescribing software.

2. Providers want to make product decisions based on patient cost.

We hear over and over that prescribers are selecting products based on what they think will be most affordable for their patients. Most EHRs are giving prescribers at least some sense of patient cost by displaying coverage information, and HCPs are continuing to ask for increased availability, reliability, and granularity of this information.

The industry is responding. Real-time benefit verification, prospective prior authorizations, and even visibility into the “list” price of a product are slowly gaining traction beyond just early adopters of these capabilities. These will continue to expand over the next few years, creating faster access to coverage and cost information (and ultimately, to the drug itself).

This sounds great, but when we consider that the payers and PBMs who are actively expanding these programs aren’t incentivized to include manufacturer coupons or hub services into the mix, we see that these growing capabilities may actually create new challenges for manufacturers. Pharma faces a very real risk of getting a big “you can’t sit with us” from those who control these data channels. If you aren’t planning for that possibility, you could find yourself on the wrong end of these technologies.

3. Physicians uniquely adopt new technologies

Speaking of hubs, we recently asked a group of physicians to tell us their current preferred way of managing prior authorization workflows. Since this remains one of the largest pain points in a physician’s practice, it’s no surprise that EHRs, payers, tech developers, and even pharma are developing tools aimed to streamline the process. While it’s great to see such attention paid to the challenge, it also means that there are several possible ways physicians are tackling prior authorizations, and our research isn’t pointing to a clear “winner” yet. Consolidation is likely to take a while, and a manufacturer who puts all their PA eggs in one basket (for example, only their own hub services program), is going to inadvertently alienate customers who prefer another method.

While the term is a little clichéd, new technology options require a renewed focus on the “provider journey,” so your teams are aware of and have a plan for all of the various ways that common tasks can be performed by your customers. You need to understand the many possible workflows—for prior authorizations as well as other common tasks—and have a plan to incorporate yourself where possible and arm your teams with resources related to those various methods. In short, help make it easy for HCPs to prescribe your product by their preferred method.

The Bottom Line

When exploring and developing EHR-integrated offerings, start with what the HCP needs and wants. Listen to provider challenges and address them with the programs you develop in EHR and digital. Identify the players who are behind major capability and system advances and get your seat at the table, because no one else—including other industry stakeholders—will be sitting there to represent you.

  • Jacquelyn Crane

    Jacquelyn is a registered nurse and healthcare business architect with a passion for optimizing healthcare workflows and information sharing. She’s also the President of Corvus Solutions, a Think Patients company focused on helping the life science industry deliver practical innovation. 


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