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Martin Wygod, Chairman, WebMD
As a longtime advocate of new approaches to meeting customer needs in pharma, I see the biggest change as the coming growth of digital platforms as the principal source of information and communication in healthcare. Throughout my career, I have sought to generate changes that create a more effective system and facilitate lower costs and better patient outcomes. I spent many years defining and building the pharmacy benefit management industry. Just as managed care and pharmacy benefit managers transformed healthcare in the 1980s, the ascendance of digital communications will result in even greater changes to our industry and will present pharma with the tools to address its challenges in the years ahead.
When I founded Medco, the objective was to create the most influential and cost-effective channel of communication to physicians and patients. At the time, it was principally telephone- and paper-based, which was expensive and inefficient. Today, patients and physicians use the Internet as their primary source for health information. Patients seek information from the Internet more frequently than from their doctors. Doctors are using the Internet in place of traditional sources of information, including meetings and detail sales representatives. For example, Medscape engages physicians over 2.5 million times each month.
While most other major industries have been transformed by digital, the healthcare industry has been slow to respond. The fact that only 20 percent of detail sales rep visits result in interactions with a physician should motivate pharma companies to rethink how they communicate with physicians. Pharma is still focused on the brief, direct sales encounter during traditional work hours, even though data shows that physicians are online seeking information from the time they wake up in the morning until late into the evening. Physicians' use of technology is not limited to their desktops, but has expanded to smartphones and tablet devices as well. The digital revolution in healthcare has created an opportunity for pharma to redefine their relationships with their physician stakeholders, and make those relationships more consistent and meaningful.
Access to advanced data sources and analytics has also substantially expanded pharma's ability to reach qualified patients and physicians to help ensure that the optimal message is reaching the most relevant audience. We know that an informed patient interacting with a prepared and educated physician is most likely to result in a productive encounter and a positive outcome. The greatest impact on appropriate prescribing occurs when pharma engages in coordinated communication with consumers and professionals. A digital communication platform provides pharma with the ability to educate clinicians on newly available treatment options and key differentiators from other products on the market, while at the same time reaching and informing qualified patients to motivate them to seek treatment from their physician.
The resulting impact of this digital revolution is a major opportunity for pharma. The dynamics among key participants are changing, especially with the increase in generics. By getting to the right audience with the right message, pharma has the opportunity to create the next generation of products and services and bypass industry gatekeepers. Through this cost-effective, efficient, and highly measureable alternative to traditional detail selling efforts and mass media, I believe that we will see a more level playing field between small and large pharma companies. This is because an engaging digital platform with broad reach to patients and physicians allows pharma to reach both the high- and previously difficult to reach low- and mid-decile prescribers, as well as identify appropriate patients more quickly and cost-effectively than ever before. The digital channel effectually moves prescribers from low-to-mid and mid-to-high deciles. As blockbuster products lose patent exclusivity and more specialized products come to market, this should help extend and expand compliance with and persistency of drug treatment and associated wellness lifestyle initiatives.