Investors put their money on point of care

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While the quantity and quality of point-of-care advertising has been rising steadily in recent years, it's on the verge of an epic growth spurt. In May, investors such as Goldman Sachs and Alphabet pumped some $500 million in financing into Outcome Health. And in June, PatientPoint received a cash injection of $140 million.

While the dollar figures are impressive, it's not just money fueling POC's coming-of-age moment. The category's growth has also been facilitated by pharma's increasing desire for more targeted messaging, new technology that facilitates message delivery within the POC environment such as beacons and other forms of proximity marketing, and physicians' hunger for quality educational content that saves them time.

Of course, POC is plenty big already. Mark Boidman, managing director at Peter J. Solomon, which acted as a strategic advisor on the PatientPoint deal, says of the $8 billion or so spent on out-of-home advertising each year, about $500 million to $600 million is spent on POC messaging. Its growth, not surprisingly, has been propelled by the shift toward all things digital.

See also: Pharma's $6 billion annual ad spend targeted by media publishers

And the new infusions of cash will help the channel get bigger, and fast. Outcome Health, which says it is already blanketing almost 600 million patient visits a year, wants to wire the majority of exam rooms by 2020, explains Blake Chandlee, EVP and GM of industry strategy and emerging businesses. Similarly, PatientPoint is expanding its digital reach with programs that impact between 60% and 70% of prescribing volume in strategic specialties.

But whichever company is behind the brands trying to get their messages out, the idea is basically the same — and light years ahead of the “stacks of pamphlets for the waiting room” thinking that first put the category on the map.

“We're delivering technology solutions to transform and enrich those micro moments when a doctor and a patient are together,” Chandlee notes. “Through technology, we have the opportunity to bring the conversation from patient engagement to patient activation, and to bring the exam room from an age of information to an age of inte lligence.”

Not so fast

But obstacles to growth still remain, ones that have prevented the category from realizing the soaring increases pundits have long predicted. No one is saying the channel has been a disappointment, exactly. “Our initial analysis suggests it has retained a fairly consistent share of direct-to-consumer investments, and so it is growing,” says Hensley Evans, a ZS principal who monitors the POC space. “But people expected it to grow more.” She expects ZS to publish an updated report on POC this month.

One recent impediment has been fragmentation, Evans continues. “This has made it hard for marketers to scale up in the channel. Maybe you had to partner with multiple POC providers, and the additional administrative care required for that isn't appealing.”

A much bigger hurdle, though, continues to be reliable metrics. “Point of care is very measurable in that you know exactly which offices you are placing these messages in. You can also determine how those physicians are behaving,” Evans notes.

See also: Point-of-care group rolls out guidelines

But from there it gets murky. POC messaging is often placed in the offices of physicians who are treating the largest numbers of patients with a given condition. “So you're already skewing toward the high writers of certain prescriptions,” Evans explains. “You're probably also heavying up on email to those doctors, too. So exactly what is driving the gains?”

It hasn't helped that POC companies tout sky-high ROI figures. “I've seen people quote 20-to-1, or even higher. Yet when we do marketing-mix modeling, the POC investment doesn't show up quite that robustly,” Evans adds. Outside audits could help: “If you measure it yourself, it is naturally less credible.”

The POC world is working toward that, which gives rise to a certain irony, says Mike Collette, founder and CEO of PatientPoint and board member of PoC3, the Point-of-Care Communications Council that was founded in 2013. On one hand, Collette notes that measurability is one of the category's biggest strengths. “It's kind of the equivalent to in-store marketing in the consumer packaged goods world. You know how 60-something percent of all brand decisions are made in stores? Well, 100% of prescription decisions are made at physician's offices,” he explains.

Yet how POC is measured remains problematic. “We have to do a far better job as an industry providing audit metrics, so people can feel comfortable that they're getting what they are promised,” Collette adds. 

Another obstacle to growth is the channel's name. It's not just that point-of-care still conjures up images of a line item in the ad budget that's associated with pamphlets and flimsy desktop anatomical models. It's that healthcare itself is running away from the idea of a static point-of-care, with patients increasingly looking for care via telemedicine or retail clinics.

See also: Infographic: What's next for the point of care market

Rather than a single POC, the healthcare world is now largely “about continuity of care. It's the types of connected health that are making this category grow,” says Larry Newman, COO of Health Media Network, another large POC player. “Healthcare moves at a snail's pace, but it is finally catching up in digital. We're seeing innovation with technology and connectivity programs.”

Outcome Health is now using “the more dynamic, patient-centric model of the ‘moment of care,'” Chandlee notes.

Health Media Network proposes making the terminology even more expansive: “We call it ‘from point of care to point of everywhere,'” says Alicesa Vongluekiat, Health Media's SVP of marketing.

Tech drives innovation

All that said, the fast-expanding options offered by new technology — along with the even-faster shrinking mass media options for pharma brands — make for exciting times in the realm of POC.

“There's nothing like Seinfeld anymore, so TV doesn't work. It just makes more sense for a brand such as Viagra to focus on urologists' offices than ads during NFL broadcasts,” explains Boidman. “Online advertising is problematic. With ad bots and fraud, you sometimes don't even know who's clicking on ads.”

Even mobile has proven a bit of a letdown, he adds: “It just isn't a pleasant experience to look at an ad on your small screen.” By contrast, exam-room display boards that let doctors click and zoom for patients “are a very clever form of native advertising. Plus the content will only get better and better as patients are more able to use their phones to interact with these messages.”

See also: Outcome Health raises $500 million in financing round

All types of tech-enabled proximity marketing, be it Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or near-field communication, are appealing to pharma. “This way, doctors can push messages such as, ‘Have you gotten your flu shot?' Patients want these messages, and doctors love them,” Boidman continues. “In an environment where providers have less time with patients, anything that helps with education is valuable.”

Newman agrees, noting Health Media, which claims the category's largest beacon network, can “reach patients all along the patient journey, not just the point of care.” Asked to share some of his favorite uses, he points to a wearables company that is working with cardiologists, distributing devices that monitor blood pressure and fitness activity, and uploading the data into patients' EHRs. He also cites hospital room screens that make it possible for mothers to view programs on lactation or newborn care — a potential boon for would-be sponsors such as makers of medical products with nutritionals.

Evans says these innovations are key to the growth of the POC channel. “There's a real need for compelling educational content,” she says, which will escalate as the definition of point of care continues to expand. “Right now, most POC is still in physicians' offices. But as more and more care comes through to patients in their living rooms or elsewhere, content that suits every context will become more valuable.”

More than Rx

For their part, POC boosters say that as consistency of inventory, channel, and metrics increases, pharma brands will understand the category better. As a result, they'll spend more — at least that's the best-case scenario.

See also: Physicians still rely on medical journals but turn to the web when they have only 10 minutes

But these same boosters also believe recent POC innovation positions the channel to be more than just an ad medium or an alternative channel to reach providers. “We spend a lot of time talking about clients and sponsors, but our mantra is that we make every patient/physician interaction better,” says Collette. “We can drive incremental lift in prescriptions. But we can also drive better health, including more immunizations and more screenings.”

Chandlee agrees, adding, “Health outcomes are the aggregation of billions of decisions that take place in examination rooms. That moment of care offers brands the opportunity to influence better health outcomes. We can deliver information and applications into the moment of care in ways that create measurable, positive outcomes for all.”

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