Looking Back, Moving Forward: EMRs in 2015

We’ve reached the end of another year, and 2015 looks to be exciting for both pharma and the EMR industry. As I’ve done in the past, I want to use my December column to reflect on the past year and to give you our thoughts on where the coming year is likely headed. One big development for our organization was our recent merger with PDR, and the combined company has taken the PDR name. That means the “we” I reference below is an even bigger and better brain trust. We hope you find our commentary and predictions helpful, and as always I look forward to hearing from you about the topics we discussed in 2014 and those we will cover in the coming year.

Moderate Growth—and More EMR-Experienced HCPs

The annual National Progress Report from Surescripts (the largest ePrescribing network in the U.S.) showed that 73% of all office-based physicians were ePrescribing as 2014 began, up four percentage points from the previous year and within about 2% of our predictions made in last December’s column, we’re happy to report. We believe ePrescribing data may be the most important EMR metric to follow because it shows a real world, day-to-day use of EMRs by practicing HCPs. We expect moderate but continued growth in the percentage of physicians who are ePrescribing when the data for 2014 is published early next year, with about three-fourths of all HCPs using EMRs. This moderate growth is to be expected as the Meaningful Use (MU) incentive program matures.

The real growth in EMRs going into 2014 was in the percentage of eligible prescriptions that were sent electronically. That number grew to just over one billion Rxs, a 32% gain over the previous year to 58% of all eligible prescriptions, exceeding our prediction by just a few points. That percentage growth is expected to also moderate just a bit when the new data comes out, with well over 60% of all eligible prescriptions traveling electronically as this year closes. This growth demonstrates that individual physicians are using their EMRs more extensively than ever, and this increased “depth” in the way EMRs are used is in many ways even more important than the meteoric rise in the number of users we saw in years past. It shows that, contrary to what you may hear at times, many systems are not just tolerated but embraced by the HCPs who use them. For these physicians, the EMR is as essential as the stethoscope, and in many ways more valuable.

Yes, Meaningful Use Stage 2 is Tougher

As most followers of the EMR industry know, the percentage of physicians and hospitals who qualified for MU Stage 2 incentives in 2014 (the first year for which they could qualify) was much lower than the percentage who qualified under the first year of Stage 1. To hear some in the press you would think this meant the sky was falling, but that’s hardly the case.

Stage 2 is, by design, a tougher set of criteria so we expected fewer HCPs to qualify for it, especially early in this stage. But that doesn’t mean HCPs aren’t using their EMRs, as evidenced by the growth we’re seeing in actual use data like the ePrescribing numbers noted above. It simply means that fewer HCPs and hospitals may be receiving incentive checks from Uncle Sam to help offset their EMR purchases.

For many, that’s simply because they don’t believe the effort is worth the reward. They will still use their systems and even increase their use of many EMR tools, but they won’t try to qualify for MU because they don’t believe it’s worth it, or they will delay their effort to qualify. MU qualification data is interesting, but it’s far from the only barometer of how systems are actually being used, and certainly not the one that matters in terms of EMR-based HCP and patient engagement by pharmaceutical manufacturers. Bottom line:  Watch the ePrescribing data, invest in and monitor your own EMR programs and ignore the MU noise.

Integration with Other Channels Becomes the Norm

As 2014 started, there were still many brands that had not yet invested in EMR programs for HCPs or patients. That number is much smaller as the year ends, and we think the real trend to watch in 2015 is greater integration of EMR programs with the other efforts pharma marketers are using to reach and support both HCPs and consumers. We’re seeing more multichannel and integrated marketing groups include EMR as a necessary part of their company’s platforms, along with Digital Centers of Excellence working with brand teams to make sure EMRs are a cornerstone of HCP and patient engagement. Watch this continue and expand. There will be instances of other channels being looked at in a supporting role for initiatives that focus primarily on the EMR channel, rather than the other way around. Scale is necessary for that to occur, but as more and more EMRs join aggregated networks scale, of course, becomes less and less challenging.

It Will Definitely Be Exciting

In closing, the one thing we’re certain of is that 2015 will be an exciting year. Both the challenges and opportunities have in many ways never been greater. We think digital tools including EMRs are only beginning to make their full contribution, and we look forward to reflecting on their role when we write out next year-end column. Until then, have a safe and prosperous 2015.

  • Mark Heinold

    Mark Heinold is CEO of PDR, the largest EMR and digital communications network. PDR connects prescribers, pharmacists and patients to improve health outcomes through targeted communications, and is the publisher of the renowned Physicians Desk Reference. PDR delivers health information designed to positively improve health behaviors through a variety of digital, office-based and pharmacy-based channels.

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