Monday, February 14, 2011

Physicians Prescribe Digital Remedies To Ease Their Pain

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Recap: Track Two, ePharma Summit Day One Program

Last Tuesday (Feb. 8) while ducking in and out of the various ePharma Summit session tracks, a childhood memory resurfaced.

Indulge me. I may be going somewhere with this…

“It's for medicinal purposes,” said my great-grandaunt, Sara, when I discovered the octogenarian sneaking a finger of schnapps into her iced tea at a family reunion as a child long, long ago. She winked at me.

It wasn't until many years – and many family reunions – later that I began to appreciate her wry sense of humor, if posthumously.

As one of several matriarchs – six sisters – in a family dominated by hearty, highly intelligent, mostly self-educated and occasionally imperious women, she was under considerable pressure to maintain an air of authority and easy confidence, especially during the most trying of times. (And I don't mean family reunions, trying though they may have been.)

Her brothers were both killed in WWI; she was a child bride; a mother of three; a widow when her eldest was ten; the daughter of immigrant parents who worked themselves to death; the Great Depression barely dented her…

She was, also, coincidentally, a registered nurse.

And like her contemporaries, she was irrepressible, compassionate and proud.

I cannot imagine what she saw in her day. But I relate this story because I suspect to some degree not much has changed since Sara wore her whites.

And I wonder what we in ePharma can do to ease the ache today.

To wit: I offer for your consideration a summary of notes taken from track two of day one of IIR's ePharma Summit 2011 program. This track focused mainly on physicians' perspectives

It’s a perspective that despite all the rhetoric is often overlooked, because at the end of the day, a pharma marketer’s role is not unlike any other marketer’s role: sell more product, to more consumers, more often, for more money. I’m not being crass or disparaging, just honest.

A member of the audience who preferred to remain anonymous generously provided the session notes.

In reviewing the notes, I was struck by how thinly stretched our front lines remain; how frustrated but resolute the practitioners are; how like my great-grandaunt Sara they persevere…

Most of all, I was struck by how the interests of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers and marketers intersect with the needs of modern medical services providers, as if it were otherwise anathema. As if it had not always been so.

Still, here we are, poised to make a difference. In fact, we're making a difference, as usual.

But there's a new variable in the equation: what I'll call “non-medical” technology.

The role of communications technology has already insinuated itself in the very fabric of healthcare – from here on out – and it has improved outcomes.

No plug intended, but I would point to ePocrates as a perfect example. Here we have a mobile technology that can enable physicians and other healthcare practitioners to quickly assess risks associated with drug interactions, pricing, dosing, formulary, regulatory considerations…

We need to catch up. I submit that the role of pharma marketer – especially in an eEverything world – will entail providing added value both to the physicians and patients we serve. We need to take a page from non-traditional players like ePocrates.

We’ve gotten pretty good at this, but it may be time to take less conventional steps than we’ve taken thus far. (What, specifically, this entails is a topic for another day, but hopefully I’ve got your gears turning.)

I would add that for those of you who did not catch her presentation, I conducted a podcast interview with Jen Dyer MD, MPH, an endocrinologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Dyer – who, btw, goes by the Twitter handle @EndoGoddessexemplifies a new generation of physician who embraces social media as a medical professional, not just as a person.

I like to call her a "Facebook physician," although that hardly scratches the surface. Click here to hear more from Jen Dyer – she's worth it.

That said, without further ado, I give you the ePharma Summit physicians’ track recap…

• Dr Diamond kicked off the track highlighting some of the realities of today's practicing physicians: They're seeing more patients; making less money; dealing with endless paperwork from insurance companies; the "F" word (formulary); the list goes on…

(EHR? “It's like Ben Gay in your underwear. At first you think it's a good idea…then…”)

By bringing to life some of the mundane realities of the physicians’ practice today, Diamond encouraged pharma to consider WIIFD: What’s In It For Doctors?

Provide tools and services that make the physician's practice more efficient, and which fit into their workflow.

Sounds simple enough. And in fact, it is. We have the technology. And so it may be time to reexamine our role as pharma marketers. How can we improve their lives and livelihoods?

• Sanjay Pingle of Physicians Interactive chaired a panel of practicing physicians, starting with the ever-important question of how they research drug information in their day-to-day practice. All the physicians cited speed and efficiency as critical to their channel of choice.

For Dr. Safirstein, the computer was the fastest way to go, through sites such as or RxList, while Dr. Bhan and Dr. Saunders preferred Epocrates.

When asked about the types of services pharma could provide, the group agreed with Dr. Diamond's call for pharma to help with mining the data their EHRs are now collecting to help them learn about their practice.

Dr. Bhan echoed Dr. Diamond's sentiments in encouraging pharma to focus on services that help physicians save time and money – “the information is out there already” – but tools and services are still in demand.

• The track wrapped with a conversation about the role of NPs and PAs, and the opportunities for pharma marketers.

Dave Mittman of Clinician1, a community for NPs and PAs, highlighted the prescribing power of NPs and PAs (they can prescribe in all 50 states, w/over 500 million Rx written), and that this group has long been neglected by pharma.

Pete Dannenfelser of Targetbase echoed the need to recognize the prescribing and patient relationship power held by this group, and urged pharma to consider patient education initiatives, as well as testing pilot programs in social media and patient engagement.

Editors note: An executive summary of the 2011 ePharma Summit – has it been ten years already? – will be available to this year’s registrants soon. Please stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted.

More importantly, get involved. Get more involved. You must have comments, criticisms, ideas related to what you’ve just read. Express them! There is an audience here, and they want to hear from you.

We welcome and encourage your comments: Tell me I’m nuts; I’m na├»ve; I’m ignorant – it would also be nice if someone told me I’m right, given my low self-esteem. I just want to hear from you. Thanks!

Marc Dresner is an IIR communication lead with a background in trade journalism and marketing. He is the former executive editor of Pharma Market Research Report, a confidential newsletter for market researchers in the pharmaceutical industry. He may be reached at

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