The term “iceberg” may seem overly dramatic when considering the impact of e-prescribing on the pharmaceutical industry, however, it is an appropriate analogy given the effect it will have on physician behavior over the next few years. Like an iceberg, e-prescribing may not seem like an immediate threat, but it is clearly visible on the not-too-distant horizon. Similarly, e-prescribing is a force that will be much larger than what is currently anticipated on the surface.
E-prescribing has grown rapidly over the past few years. E-prescription network SureScripts reported that in December 2007, only 6% of physicians were e-prescribing (American Medical News, November 3, 2008). Contrast that with 2010, when a third of all office-based prescribers were routing ‘scripts electronically (The National Progress Report on E-Prescribing and Interoperable Healthcare, © 2011, Surescripts LLC).
This 400% increase has been propelled by the federal government and commercial health insurance. The government has impacted e-prescribing through financial incentives from Medicare and Medicaid as well as through $19.2 billion of improvements in electronic health records as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Likewise, health insurance companies have also spurred the growth in e-prescribing by installing systems into physician practices at little or no cost.
As this level of growth is expected to continue, pharmaceutical companies need to stay focused on how e-prescribing will impact their business. Here are a few ways companies can take advantage of the changing dynamics caused by this technology.
- Continually assess the impact of e-prescribing on your products. While efforts to standardize e-prescribing systems are progressing, considerable variability in the functionality of these systems exists along with diverse physician ability to navigate the technology. Companies need to comprehensively identify the extent to which variability in systems' functionality and physician ability is impacting e-prescribing for their products. In our own client research, we have found a range of issues in formulary presentation that are problematic for individual products.
- Facilitate physician understanding of e-prescribing. While some physicians are comfortable with e-prescribing, others are slowly getting acclimated to all of the features of these new systems. Pharmaceutical companies should explore how to help support physician adoption of systems through training programs, perhaps facilitated by their sales force.
- Develop brand features that optimize prescribing screens and drop-down menus. With e-prescribing, physicians' most common exposure to your product will be through the interface on their screen or device. Firms need to assess how brand features (i.e., the first letter in their product name) will optimize the product's position and exposure in that interface.
With the e-prescribing iceberg on the horizon, preparation and monitoring now can help companies enjoy some smooth sailing later.
Eric John is SVP, SciMedica Group Market Research & Consulting