Technology Is Transforming The Healthcare System (And That's A Good Thing)
Among the trends accelerating this sea change are:
- Healthcare costs need to be controlled.
- Many blockbuster drugs are going off of patent and going generic while the new drug approval process is slower and more expensive than ever.
- Managed Care is the new reality and the influence these giant insurers exert over which drugs get prescribed cannot be denied.
- Pharmaceutical companies are cutting back on staff and spending while at the same time a wave of incredibly large acquisitions have rocked the industry.
- Millions of previously uninsured Americans will join the ranks of the insured, taxing an already strained healthcare delivery system.
In the center of this perfect storm sits the symbiotic yet sometimes fractious relationship between the pharmaceutical companies who make and market drugs and the physicians who prescribe them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2006, "...medications were ordered or provided in over two-thirds of the 1.1 billion visits to physician offices." Clearly, prescribing drugs is central to what physicians do and one can quickly surmise that pharmaceutical companies couldn't exist without prescribing physicians and physicians couldn't provide the patient care we have all come to expect without the pharmaceutical companies.
To understand how critical the pharmaceutical-physician relationship is, just look at some of the numbers.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, domestic sales of pharmaceuticals and medicines totaled $189 billion in 2008. Pharmaceutical manufacturers spent at least $20.5 billion on promotional activities, with about $16 billion of the total targeted to physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.
Yet, the old model of physically sending pharmaceutical sales representatives to meet with physicians is simply not working as effectively as it once was. According to the Center for Media & Democracy, pharmaceutical companies spend a whopping $8,290 per doctor to get their sales reps in front of them.
Throughout all of this there is a clear appreciation that technology can and should be employed to reduce costs, aid physicians in their education and information needs, speed healthcare delivery, improve access, increase safety and improve patient outcomes. The good news is that physicians are adapting to new technologies at an impressive rate.
A 2009 study by Hall & Partners found that 89% of U.S. physicians use the Internet to gather health, medical or prescription drug information. Even more surprisingly, 21% said they did so with a patient in the examination room and 59% reported doing so from a mobile device.
According to Surescripts, in the area of electronic prescribing:
- In 2009, approximately 18% of eligible prescriptions were prescribed electronically compared with just 6.6% in 2008.
- The number of physicians routing prescriptions electronically grew from 74,000 at the end of 2008 to 156,000 by the end of 2009 while the number of ePrescriptions grew from 68 million in 2008 to 191 million in 2009.
Today, almost as many physicians research information, attend conferences, and read journals online as do so offline. Physicians' time online has doubled since 2003. Moreover, about four in five physicians believe that the Internet is essential to their practice and improves their practice's efficiency. Participation in social networks that are dedicated to physicians almost doubled from 2008 to 2009.
The bond connecting physicians and pharmaceutical companies is as strong as ever and is not going away. However, in order to acknowledge and respect the way in which technology is changing the ways that physicians run their practices and provide for their patients, pharmaceutical companies need to realign their sales and marketing practices.
It can be a win-win-win scenario whereby physicians gain convenient, cost-effective access to the information and tools they need, pharmaceutical companies benefit from a value-added education/promotions approach, reducing costs while increasing message delivery, and patients reap the benefit of more informed, faster and safer treatment.
That is the promise of technology in the new American healthcare landscape and it's happening right now.