But according to Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, pharma companies might be overlooking a potentially powerful tool for reaching physicians: electronic health records (EHRs).

As detailed by FiercePharma’s Beth Snyder Bulik, a leading pharmaceutical company used an EHR-focused campaign in an effort to make one of its antibiotics top of mind for physicians at the point of care:

Beginning with 320 hospital targets, the company and its distribution partners found 192 active EHR systems users and targeted messages to them. The results were more than encouraging.

The EHR program achieved a 28% engagement rate with physicians in the first month, followed by 36% and 26% in the following two – the first three of an ongoing six-month campaign.

Ritesh Patel, Ogilvy CommonHealth’s chief digital officer, notes that EHR campaigns aren’t about advertising.

“It’s not just about product messages, but also messages about education or pipeline drugs or presenting data to physicians, which now goes to strategy,” he explained.

Opportunities and challenges

EHR adoption has grown significantly in recent years. According to SK&A, by January of this year, more than half (59%) of providers reported using an EHR, and in some specialties, the adoption rates are much higher.

For example, SK&A says that EHR adoption is 75% in internal medicine and pediatrics. What’s more, large numbers of physicians are using EHRs in meaningful ways.

Case in point: when Practice Fusion, a cloud-based EHR provider, released a clinical decision support program, it “reached more than 50,000 physicians and 3.7m patients resulting in 25,000+ more patient plans, which was a five-fold increase.”

Statistics like this suggest that EHRs now represent a big enough channel for savvy pharma marketers to put to good use. But doing so won’t necessarily be easy.

For one, as FiercePharma’s Bulik notes, there are hundreds of EHR providers.

Different EHR platforms have different capabilities, and while the industry does have standards, integration isn’t always easy. 

Additionally, because the content available through each EHR is generally customized for and controlled by providers, getting distribution means that marketers will sometimes have to work on a provider-by-provider basis.

More worryingly, despite growing adoption of EHRs, there are still growing pains. Troubling surveys indicate that physicians and care providers aren’t satisfied with EHR technology.

In one study, more than one half of respondents indicated that their EHRs were making it difficult for them to improve efficiency. 

The authors of the same study did find that satisfaction with EHRs increases the longer they’re used, so some of these growing pains could be short-lived. 

Pharma companies themselves could help the situation by targeting EHR users with proprietary data and content.

As Deloitte Consulting and the Gerson Lehrman Group discovered, a large majority (84%) of physicians Deloitte and GLG surveyed indicated that efficacy and outcome data, as well as clinical guidelines, influence their drug utilization decisions.

Furthermore, well over half (65%) stated they’d be interested in interacting with pharma over social channels around this type of content.

With the right content and integrations, EHRs could be an even more effective channel than social for pharma marketers and the good news is that the window of opportunity is still open, at least for a short while.

“You’re not too late today, but you will be by this time next year,” Will Febbo, CEO of EHR provider OptimizeRx, told Bulik.