Vantage Point: Big Data

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Harris Kaplan
Harris Kaplan

Big Data is coming and with it the danger of pharmaceutical marketers relying on it too heavily as a lens with which to assess physician behavior and prescribing trends.

Physicians dislike Big Data because it flies in the face of personalized medicine. Patients differ in education, income, and language and these variables often affect treatment decisions. Analysis based on averages will lead to step edits, performance metrics, and pay-for-performance schemes that will limit treatment options, hamper physicians' ability to give individualized care, and incentivize suboptimal care.

Every physician has their database of experience and every patient is unique. They rarely fit the averages.  David Ogilvy, the legendary ad guru, once noted, “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.” Applying this to healthcare, despite what your loved one learns online, they're not average and you don't want their physician treating them “by the numbers.”

For brand directors, Big Data can help frame health economic and product value arguments to payers. But it doesn't predict physician response to new clinical data, or to a new product. Nor does it persuade a physician trying to maximize the number of patients seen per day that patient education or switching patients to a new drug is worth their time. Only small data, or primary research, can provide that insight.

Individual-level prescribing data transformed pharmaceutical marketing. Big Data is a major step forward in this vein. But marketers should never forget that healthcare is delivered one-to-one and that physicians still reign relative to making prescribing decisions. And each physician and their practice are unique. They're not just data points.


Harris Kaplan is managing partner, Red Team Associates, a division of Healogix.

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