New Directions in eHealth

Nov 03, 2015

Last month, digital marketing firm Physicians Interactive (PI; Reading MA), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Merck operating independently from the drugmaker’s branded pharmaceutical and vaccine operations, announced its acquisition of Univadis, previously also a Merck subsidiary providing resources for HCPs such reports, references, textbooks and online education modules.

In combining the PI and Univadis networks — taking total membership to more than three million users across more than 90 countries — chairman and CEO Donato Tramuto believes the company is better positioned to address the “transformation” that is underway in healthcare, one which “requires a fresh, integrated approach grounded in proven digital strategies”.

Pharm Exec caught up with Mr Tramuto to understand how companies like PI are facilitating the interaction between physicians and pharma in the digital age, and to ascertain what he sees as the key trends shaping the immediate future of e-health.

PE: Can you give us a little background on Physicians Interactive and its relationship with Merck?

DT: I launched Physicians Interactive (PI) back it 2008 with the belief that HCPs wanted a safe haven to receive information.  This was initiated following my 3 year stint at United Health where as CEO of the I3 Division, we also provided services and support to pharma companies, however, I could see that the tide was changing with regard to the amount of time physicians had available to see pharma sales reps as well as the quality of information that was presented.Donald Tramuto

Initially PI was primarily content driven, but I always saw it becoming more than just information and so we expanded its value by offering transactional services.  Today, Physicians don’t just access one thing when they come to the site. In addition to content and information, they now have the opportunity to hear from their peers and interact with thought leaders; they can access medical alerts, as well as be constantly up-to-date with branded drug changes; they can get formulary information, dosage information.  In summary, It’s the depth and breadth of PI’s services that pulls the physicians in.

Physicians have entered the digital age and are now using digital resources to access the kind of information they need. PI provides a way for pharma to meet physicians where they want to be met and when they want to be met, and to provide them with trusted information that they want to receive and utilize.

In July of 2013, I sold PI to the Merck Global Health Innovations.  I had known and worked with the partners within this Corporate Venture Group for many years, so I was very comfortable that PI would remain independent. (Indeed, the 425 employees of PI are not employees of Merck, we have no Merck benefits, and we cannot buy Merck stock. We have our own independent Board of Directors).  At the same time, I also knew that Merck had the valuable Univadis asset, and that it made sense for these two assets – these two HCP platforms to be integrated and while it took one year for this vision to be realized, I am thrilled to be able to share with you today that it is now reality and UNIVADIS will now be managed as within the confinements of PI.

How has physicians’ behavior online changed since you launched PI?

It’s not so much the physicians’ behavior that has changed as the consumers’ behavior. It is the consumer - the patient that has moved the needle in terms of how physicians behave. The iPhone is only five years old, but in that time there has been significant change in terms of how consumers access information. I think we can say that soon consumers will be as well informed as physicians.

What do you see as the key advances in eHealth in the next few years?

As we go more upstream in terms of population health, physicians are going to recognize that they will have to divide the population into the healthy, the stable chronic and the chronic. We’ve been primarily focused on the chronic population at PI, but as we go more upstream, we can see that it’s not just about taking care of patients but more about keeping populations healthy and creating risk avoidance programs which is where I believe digital platforms will be critically important.

When you have seven billion devices out there in the world — in India, for example, 65% of the population don’t have toilets but 75% have mobile devices — there is a real opportunity with the digital programs we have to work in partnership with governments, employers and health plans to educate populations to stay well, and to provide programs for the stable chronic population to keep them out of that chronic bucket for as long as we can. That’s the real e-opportunity that I see going forward. 

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