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EHRs: A Win-Win to Provide Patient Education Materials

By Tony Schueth, CEO and Managing Partner, Point-of-Care Partners

Tony Schueth, CEO and Managing Partner, Point-of-Care Partners

Patient-centric educational materials are needed now as never before. Federal mandates require physicians to use electronic health records (EHRs) to meet patient engagement and quality requirements. This includes using an EHR to provide patients with relevant information about their condition and treatment. At the same time, biopharmaceutical companies are starting to go “beyond the pill” to reorient toward patients as a key component of the marketing mix. That is where EHRs come in.

To be sure, biopharmaceutical brand teams have traditionally used a number of methods to get materials in physicians' hands about certain conditions. These materials and distribution channels represent a substantial investment. Now there is a new distribution channel: EHRs in the physician’s office. Leveraging EHRs creates new opportunities for brand teams by engaging physicians and supporting their existing patient engagement and education efforts. It is a win-win for companies and physicians.

"EHRs present a new opportunity for brand teams to engage physicians with a value-add in terms of content and usability"

Why EHRs? EHRs burst on the healthcare scene beginning in 2009, when federal legislation created the meaningful use (MU) EHR incentive program. MU first incentivized physicians to adopt EHRs and then required them to report on their use to earn incentive payments and avoid Medicare payment penalties. As a result, EHRs are now a critical component of ambulatory practice. Recent statistics show that about 80 percent of office-based physicians use EHRs.

A key MU requirement mandates that physicians provide educational materials to patients via EHRs. For example, one objective specifies that providers must use clinically relevant information from certified EHR technology to identify patient-specific educational resources and provide them to patients. In addition, MU calls for providers to directly engage patients in their care through such electronic means such as EHRs. Often the materials as a practice, included in their EHR, are too limited about the condition or the specific medications being prescribed.

Private payers, including accountable care organizations, have followed suit. Like the federal government, they view use of EHRs—particularly as part of patient engagement strategies—to lower costs and improve the quality of care, patient safety, and patient satisfaction. As a result, Medicare and numerous other payers have begun to mandate use of EHRs as quality and payment metrics.

Finally, EHRs present a new opportunity for brand teams to engage physicians with a value-add in terms of content and usability. Most EHRs already come with some patient educational materials. However, those tend to be broad in focus and general in content. Company-provided information offers in-depth material to supplement what is already in the EHR. This fits within physicians’ workflows and helps them meet various quality and pay-for-performance targets, which will increase the materials’ use.

How it could work? It is not complicated to make educational materials available through the EHR.

First, the pharmaceutical account manager or sales team has to achieve the clinician’s buy-in to use the company-provided patient education materials. This can include condition-specific unbranded materials and branded materials about a medication being prescribed. Achieving buy-in should not be challenging given that patient education is a measure for MU and other performance-linked, payment programs. Patient engagement is widely recognized as beneficial for care quality.

After buy-in occurs, the account manager and sales representative can work with the office’s information technology (IT) staff to incorporate the materials directly into the EHR. In small practices, the IT contact may be the office manager or practice administrator. Large practices may have dedicated staff for their IT needs or use consultants. 

Once this has been done, the physician can print the information on demand during a patient visit or the patient can access the materials through the office’s patient portal. The latter is the way most practices currently provide patients with administrative and clinical information. Clinical information within an EHR can help the physician target patient-specific educational materials that are posted.

What biopharmaceutical companies can do? Some work is required on the biopharmaceutical company’s part. First, a variety of presentation formats is required. For example, some systems are not optimized for outside PDFs. Inclusion of content in an HTML or RTF format allows inclusion with other patient instructions.

Second, the company should make educational materials that are easy to obtain and keep current. Ideally, there should be a method to update content as new guidelines and best practices are developed. 

Finally, the biopharmaceutical company should make sure its content is a value-add to existing practice resources. Content should be impartial and have minimal company branding. Materials should not be used to develop relationships with patients without physician practice involvement. Too many patient education goals are centered on signing up and educating patients without physician and practice involvement. This makes practice staff wary when patients question physician choices based on what they have read in content that is physician-provided but biopharmaceutical company-directed. Such efforts can add to physicians’ growing and significant distrust of biopharmaceutical marketing tactics, which are leading them to ban sales reps from their practices, according to recent reports.

Why it would work? Making educational materials available through the EHR is a win-win for both providers and biopharmaceutical companies.

For providers, this approach:

• Can easily be made part of the workflow during an office visit to supplement purchased resources already present.
• Provides specific, in-depth, and current information for patients to augment existing EHR materials.
• Helps satisfy MU and pay-for-performance requirements for both public and private payers.
• Eliminates the need to stock volumes of paper handouts, which most practices have already been eliminated.
• Provides patients and caregivers with the targeted and varied types of patient information at different stages of therapy and disease state. This should improve patient outcomes and increase satisfaction, which are pay-for-performance metrics.
• Could help improve medication adherence. Non-adherence leads to adverse outcomes, avoidable hospitalizations, excess office visits, unnecessary nursing home admissions, and premature deaths. These are criteria by which physicians are measured in terms of pay for performance.
• Explains how a medication works and how it addresses a disease, which is an important function in medication adherence.

For biopharmaceutical companies, making educational materials available through the EHR enables the sales team to:

• Provide a curriculum of high quality, comprehensive content that is engaging and actionable by the patient.
• Easily provide current content and information about treatment best practices.
• Create and/or deepen relationships with physicians and office staff.
• Help physicians maximize their time spent with patients during the office visit.
• Help physicians achieve quality and payment targets for Medicare and other payers.
• Build loyalty and trust.
• Improve sales and patient retention.

Leveraging EHRs to provide physicians with educational materials is one of many patient-engagement strategies that pharmaceutical companies should start using in today’s digital marketing environment. Patient engagement offers value to both providers and patients. It is a necessary pivot for biopharmaceutical marketing of the future.