Open the Door to Health System Partnerships

Hear that noise? It’s the seismic shift of physicians joining organized systems such as Integrated Delivery Networks (IDNs), Integrated Health Networks (IHNs) and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs)—and the door closing on some of the pharmaceutical industry’s most tried-and-true engagement strategies. In fact, recent data from a survey of more than 3,000 physicians found that 57% of all physicians in the U.S. are practicing within health systems.1

This shift is placing a greater burden on health systems to educate physicians on formulary parameters and best practices for prescribing medications—and it highlights opportunities for pharmaceutical manufacturers to find creative yet effective ways to help fill this gap. After all, while the vast majority (90%) of organized providers believe pharma partnerships have the potential to improve quality of care, less than half say they are currently partnering with pharma on any performance improvement initiatives.2

Digital strategies can help open the door to these partnerships, helping pharma manufacturers stay relevant and top-of-mind amidst these market changes, while offering real value to physicians and the health systems that employ them. Pharma companies need to transform their product-centric message to a therapeutic/disease management focused approach—one that aligns with the challenges health systems face in improving care delivery and that supports practicing physicians’ need to be successful in these new delivery models.

Consolidation Frustration

“The vast majority of our physicians do not understand the business challenges we face,” says one organized physician member of our online physician community. “I believe the newer graduates have the best grasp of the business side and we are actively trying to catch up our physicians who have been in practice longer.”

These health systems value efficiency, which often takes the form of carefully controlled prescribing procedures and limited contact with pharmaceutical sales representatives. In fact, the percentage of physicians who “never see” pharma reps jumped from 27% to 32%, an 18% increase over just the past year and the trend is consistent across PCPs and specialists.3

Physicians are feeling the impact of this restriction on product knowledge. “The real question you need to ask now that they [pharma reps] are gone is: ‘Are you more or less educated about new drugs and drug classes?’” says another online community physician member. “How do you decide which product/drug you prescribe for each and every patient type?”

But beyond the need for new drug therapy knowledge, organized physicians also need access to the information that will help them succeed in these new care delivery models—not just product information, but content that effectively educates and impacts physician behaviors.

Digital strategies bridge this divide between physicians and their employers, as well as the gap between prescribers and the manufacturers. Today, 76% of organized physicians say they prefer to get their information from digital channels over in-person representatives, print media and phone links. This preference for digital increases to 83% among physicians with less than 10 years of experience.4  A successful digital strategy that engages these physicians and helps inspire behavior change must be:

  • Convenient: Given time-strapped schedules, physicians need concise content on the topics that matter to them, available whenever and wherever they want it. Mobile access is not just a nice-to-have; it’s one of the main ways providers seek out information.
  • Credible: Research suggests that doctors are more likely to try a new therapy when they are persuaded to do so by an influential colleague.5 They want educational content delivered by recognized KOLs they can trust.
  • Valuable: To make it worth physicians’ time, information should be easily applicable to practice and offer a measurable impact on outcomes.

Population Health and Physician Engagement

Population health is a top agenda item for many health systems these days. Physician engagement is key to the success of those efforts—and pharma has a significant role to play. Among other things, they can offer education on best practices for prescribing medications and explain how these products complement cost-effective care.

One timely example: The emergence of biosimilars in the U.S. market. While most physicians (94%) believe that these new treatments will offer real value in terms of better access and lower healthcare costs to the patient and to the system, only 17% of specialists who see patients with conditions commonly treated with biologics say they’ll be likely to prescribe one for their eligible patients.6

The most cited concern that physicians note is their need to better understand the best practices on when to prescribe a biosimilar vs. a branded drug—and 51% say they would most trust their hospital or institution when it comes to delivering information, education and support in this regard. With RAND Corporation estimating that the biosimilars used to treat illnesses such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis could cut spending on biologics in the United States by $44 billion over the next decade, pharma companies that offer timely education on these new therapies may help the health system control one of the fastest growing line items in their budget—pharmaceuticals.

Impact of Expert-led Content

We’ve already seen plenty of evidence suggesting that expert-led digital content makes a measurable impact on key population health measures, as well as on the performance of pharma manufacturers whose KOLs deliver these educational messages. For example:

  • 72% of physician survey respondents say that a digital, expert-led presentation influenced how they manage acute asthma exacerbations in their patients;7 63% of physicians have identified additional patients for a branded therapy.8
  • 77% of respondents say that a digital, expert-led presentation influenced how they manage hypertension in their patients;9 58% of physicians have identified additional patients for a branded therapy.10
  • 81% of respondents say that a digital, expert-led presentation influenced how they approach nutrition with diabetic patients;11 66% of physicians have identified additional patients for a branded therapy.12

Physicians who engage with the types of digital tools drawn from industry experts—including targeted content on relevant therapeutic categories—will be better equipped to deliver the clinical outcomes this new healthcare model demands.

ePatient and mHealth Growth

It’s not just organized systems that put pressure on physicians to keep up with the latest developments and therapies. Another contributing factor: DTC consumer marketing, along with the growing number of people using the Internet to self-diagnose, is quickly changing the doctor-patient relationship.

Physicians are noting the effects. “It’s interesting that direct-to-consumer advertising has decreased the number of my patients asking for the newest drug,” notes an online physician member. “They are afraid of the side effects.”

Pharma manufacturers can use digital content to offer physicians an easy way to keep up with the latest therapies while positioning themselves as partners in the delivery of care. Just a few examples of the type of content physicians are proactively asking for that can be delivered digitally include:

  • 94% of oncologists say they would like to learn about new classes of breast cancer drugs before the drug is on the U.S. market.13
  • 64% of neurologists cite “keeping up with new treatments and medications” as their top care delivery challenge.14
  • The top two types of education that rheumatologists cite as most beneficial are “expert/specialist lectures,” (86%) and “guideline updates” (76%).15

At the same time, health systems are investing in mHealth tools and technologies to empower the people they serve to take control of their health. It’s estimated that about 20% of patients now bring healthcare information found online to a scheduled doctor’s appointment and 45% of physicians say they recommend specific websites or online resources to patients.16

The significance of this trend is prompting new platform development that helps physicians and other healthcare professionals evaluate, select and prescribe the right mobile health applications, connected devices and educational content for use by patients and caregivers. Pharma manufacturers who offer their own consumer-facing apps will gain by using these types of platforms in promoting their digital offerings to their target physicians—physicians who have come to expect that the information they need to deliver better care is available in a digital format, whenever and wherever it’s convenient for them.

As more entities claim a stake in healthcare delivery, the healthcare landscape continues to change as well. As a result, physicians face more restrictive policies, greater cost control responsibilities and a hyper-connected patient population—with precious little time to keep up on new treatments and therapies. Pharma companies willing to invest in digital strategies can deliver real value to health systems at both the physician and executive level, helping improve efficiency and performance. Are you ready to kick open the digital door and seize these opportunities?


1. “Working the System: Four Trends Driving New Opportunities for Engaging Physicians in Organized Provider Systems,” Capgemini Consulting and Quantia, October 2014.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. “Adoption of a High-Impact Innovation in a Homogeneous Population,” Phys. Rev. X 4, 041008 15 October 2014.

6. “Reading the Signs: A Roadmap for Increasing Physician Engagement in the Biosimilars Market,” Quantia, July 2015.

7. Asthma Impact Survey, Quantia, 2014.

8. Asthma 60-Second Surveys, Quantia, 2014.

9. Hypertension Impact Survey, Quantia, 2014.

10. Hypertension 60-Second Surveys, Quantia, 2014.

11. Diabetes Nutrition Impact Survey, Quantia, 2014.

12. Diabetes 60-Second Surveys, Quantia, 2014.

13. Breast cancer drug survey, Quantia, 2014.

14. Neurologist drug survey, Quantia, 2014.

15. Rheumatologist drug survey, Quantia, 2015.

16. Taking the Pulse, Manhattan Research, 2011.

  • Dan Malloy, PhD

    Dan Malloy, PhD is Executive Vice President at Quantia. Dan has more than 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry, with a focus on data integration, analytics and performance measurement for both payers and providers. Dr. Malloy previously served as Vice President at IMS Health within the IMS Payer Solutions business in the U.S., designing and executing pay-for-performance programs.


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