The Marketing Opportunities and Challenges of an e-Prescription

The birth of e-prescribing has created a different environment for the physician and patient, and a new set of opportunities and challenges for marketers. However, along with new roadblocks also come new tools for reaching HCPs.

In the December issue of PM360 we described the differences between e-prescribing (e-Rx), electronic medical records (EMRs) and electronic health records (EHRs). We also covered some of the fundamentals of each of these systems, and discussed the ways they are related to each other. This month, we focus on some differences between e-prescriptions and prescriptions created in the traditional way (with a prescription pad and pen) and how this affects healthcare providers (HCPs), patients and marketers.

Before e-prescribing was available, the HCP would likely rely on his/her memory for almost every aspect of creating a prescription. Most HCPs have a small number of mainstay products on which they rely within any therapeutic class, but they are often willing to experiment with new products based largely on information supplied by sales representatives. With e-prescribing, sales people may find additional barriers to getting HCPs to experiment with new products, but pharma marketers may find they have new tools available through these same e-prescribing systems.

Getting an HCP to try a new product may be more difficult because most e-prescribing systems allow a physician to create a list of favorite products and their appropriate doses and instructions, which the provider can save in an easily accessible “favorites” list. This makes drug selection very easy, as the physician can simply call up their preferred drug and dose from a drop down list and the required information is filled in for them. The e-prescription is then sent directly to the pharmacy via an online network that connects the e-prescribing system with pharmacies across the nation. Once at the pharmacy, the Rx is filled and ready for the patient to pick up, often before they arrive. The process is simple, convenient and creates both opportunities and challenges for the pharma marketer.

Without e-prescribing, the effort to write a prescription for an unfamiliar drug is largely the same as the effort to write a favorite drug. But with e-prescribing, writing the new prescription may take more effort. The new drug must be searched for in the system using the search function, then selected from the list of products displayed. New products become available for search because they have been loaded into the e-prescribing company’s data set via a data feed from a third-party provider. If this update is delayed for some reason, the drug simply won’t be available to select even if the physician is willing to search for it. While this is not a common problem, the process of searching for a new drug takes more steps than simply choosing a drug and dose from a prepopulated list of favorites—hence the “path of least resistance” favors the physician’s existing favorites and those drugs already in the system.

This means that a marketing team that wants to gain awareness with an e-prescribing provider may need to develop a program that keeps their drug “top of mind” more often than a brand that is already on the provider’s list of favorites. This can be done in an appropriate and professional way. For example, a message that promotes a particular brand may be delivered on the e-prescriber’s screen when the provider is searching for certain types of information related to a particular therapeutic class, thereby reminding the provider of its availability. What a marketer must avoid in this situation is a suggestion that the provider switch a medication once they have already selected a product for the patient.

Once the drug is selected, many e-prescribing systems are also capable of displaying on-screen information to the HCP about available options for that medication, as the prescription is created. For example, a provider may be reminded to select “Dispense as Written” for products that are often substituted at the pharmacy or to prescribe a 90-day supply instead of 30. The manufacturer often sponsors these messages because they encourage the provider to take additional or different actions that can aid the patient without interfering with actual product selection.

Once the e-prescription is created, many systems enable delivery of information that can be supplied to the patient in the HCP’s office. This often occurs because the manufacturer (or perhaps the insurer) believes the patient needs to know specific facts about their therapy and/or disease state. For example, the system can be programmed to automatically print information that explains more about the drug or disease state, or that encourages the patient to pick up their prescription at the pharmacy. Educational information delivered with the prescription—handed to the patient by the provider or their staff—has been repeatedly proven to increase adherence to therapy. This translates to better outcomes for the patient and provider and increased sales for the manufacturer, which can be easily and reliably measured. Information can also vary based on whether the Rx is new or for a drug the patient has been taking for some time.
E-Rx systems also allow for the delivery of co-pay reduction or other savings offers that are delivered to the patient when the prescription is written. This can increase the likelihood that the co-pay offer will be delivered, as providers often fail to consistently take the trouble of searching for and delivering preprinted co-pay cards and coupons. With e-prescribing, the offer can often be automatically printed along with the patient’s other prescription information. One note about these programs, you should not confuse a patient’s need for information or encouragement with a desire for an economic incentive. If a patient doesn’t believe he/she needs the drug, simply offering a co-pay reduction won’t have much impact. Both education and incentive are often needed, and with e-prescribing the sponsor can often deliver both easily, cost-effectively and in a measurable way.

We will cover other aspects of e-prescribing and electronic medical/health records in future columns, but feel free to contact us anytime if you have questions about the ways your brand or company can benefit from communicating with both patients and HCPs via e-Rx or EMR/EHR systems.

  • 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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