I recently sat in a conference room at a large pharmaceutical manufacturer, and I listened as the team lamented their EHR-focused programs that have failed to launch. Their agency had presented campaigns and the brand team was on board, but everything had stalled. They wondered why their agencies and vendor sales teams were pitching ideas that sounded great, but that were repeatedly shot down by EHR supplier partners and even by the company’s own legal team. They were frustrated, and doubted that they had the full picture.

It was a meeting I’d been in before, and I’ll bet you’ve been there as well.

In my last column, I stressed the importance of the “Essential Digital”—those things that pharma marketers absolutely must get right before launching any other marketing campaigns. The tools where HCPs spend most of their time (think EHRs) are the very definition of “essential,” so why are marketing teams too often failing to execute these programs well? Here are my top red flags that indicate a marketing team may be set up to fail at EHR-based engagements:

1. They are trying to run the same creative in the EHR that they run in other channels.

This isn’t the place to save money (or time) by reusing assets from another campaign. While there aren’t that many EHR suppliers that will allow pharma messaging, those that do almost always require that the message be of clinical value to the HCP. The EHR isn’t like media, where consumers are expecting and accepting of advertising. EHRs can’t be thought of in the same way as other channels for one big reason: They are clinical tools, full of protected patient information, for the purpose of enabling better care. Does it take more of your resources to get these additional messages approved? Yes. Accept that, do it, and deliver a message of value that respects the clinical purpose of the EHR.

2. They forget about institutional controls.

Even for users of the same version of the same EHR, workflows and capabilities vary from institution to institution. With more and more physician practices joining a larger health system group, more of your customers are held to the policies and procedures of an institution. Many of those policies play out in the EHR—resulting in platforms that can work very differently from one installation to another. This means there is no one solution that will work everywhere. Prepare extra due diligence of programs promising a simple, step-by-step process or solution, claimed to work in any setting that uses a particular EHR, because most IDNs and institutions have a significant amount of customization built into that EHR. Solutions with higher success rates are the ones that plan for the limitations in place at each institution and allow for customization at the local level.

3. They assume consistent workflows among providers.

Even if all EHRs were exactly the same, individual providers still use their EHRs in very different ways. I recently led a physician research campaign using our custom provider panel to explore attitudes and habits around prescribing, documentation, and clinical decision making, and found that even something as simple as saving medications to a “favorites list” is understood and implemented in very different ways by individual providers. Before you launch a campaign based on an EHR (or any Health IT tool) workflow, take the time to really understand how providers are using their systems and whether your program will support their existing methods and habits—that’s how to establish buy-in.

4. They focus on the wrong kind of behavior change.

Let me be blunt here, and probably upset a few marketers and more than a few agency partners. Please, stop trying to put switch messaging in the EHR after a prescribing decision has been made. I still often hear about companies pitching an EHR-based switch campaign to pharma brand teams. You know what you really accomplish with those programs? Far too often, you alienate prescribers. Your agency wants to make you happy, and they know how attractive this type of messaging sounds. But we’re in contact with prescribers almost every day, and you are doing yourself a disservice with many of them. In EHRs, don’t focus on changing behaviors from prescribing one product to prescribing another; instead, focus on helping the HCP make an informed decision and educate their patient. You might be surprised how that will change their view of your brand.

5. They are working in silos, without company-wide guidance.

Multiple brands, with multiple agencies, pitching health IT-based ideas to multiple MLR teams inside a company is a recipe for confusion and inconsistency. High turnover on brand teams leads to lost learnings and lack of institutional knowledge around EHRs and health IT. Companies that have a centralized team focused on this area, requiring that all EHR campaigns be executed by (or at least “blessed” by) this team, benefit from the ability to learn across multiple programs, set standards, and develop policies that ensure compliant, safe, and far more successful projects.

And a last bit of advice: There are limited opportunities to reach HCPs within their EHR workflows, so each program must be architected for maximum impact and value to both your customers and your brand. If you’re finding your programs stalled, underperforming, or ineffective, you may need to look beyond your usual partners for the experience and expertise to correct this.

  • 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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