There is no relationship between the two. None possible with HIPAA. But there is something incredibly important happening, and though the tipping point is a ways off, the ever-increasing number of people with Electronic Personal Health Records is going to radically change how pharmaceutical marketers engage with patients.
This thought has been stirring in my head since I went to ePharma Summit in February (some thoughts just have to bake longer than others). One of the best speakers there was from Microsoft and his topics was EHR and PHR. Besides reinforcing the inevitability of the conversion, especially with this new administration, he created a genuine sense of excitement. Not easy with a bunch of pharma marketers.
Two things about his presentation stick in my head: first, that Kaiser Permanente has a majority of its under-35 patients already online. Obviously, Kaiser is gigantic, and if they're on board with EHR, then everyone else is going to have to follow suit. In addition, there seems to be a real generational issue at work here — younger patients have grown up with the Internet as part of their lives, and are more conversant with its capabilities and perhaps less concerned about privacy issues.
Second, Microsoft and Google, the two leaders with their respective, Google Health and MSN HealthVault offerings, have agreed to have a shared cross-platform technology, thus no "Beta versus VHS" religious war delaying adoption.This has a lot of second-order implications as well. For Microsoft to agree to cooperate with Google, they have got to believe that the market is big enough for both of them. That's a big market. Also, Microsoft was built on the idea of a proprietary operating system, and what's being discussed here is essentially an online operating system for healthcare. For Microsoft to voluntarily partner in something like this with its archenemy Google is a radical shift in perspective.
What does this mean to pharma/biotech marketers? Well, in some ways we are cut out — forget ever proposing an online diary or customized experience. If you already have your own private Health Network going on, who wants to interact with some lame branded or clever unbranded site?This depends to some degree on what these private networks actually do, but overall, it doesn't look good for pharma marketers.
That is the negative. The positive is the acceleration of using the different digital media to stay engaged with your health. This bodes well for pharma to innovate and really compete for the patient's attention through online and phone center service. As one of many channels for communicating with patients, online is going to take a more and more central role. Patients are going to be increasingly comfortable with online health information, and if pharma can manage its offering relative to both the patients it serves and the content of the PHR systems, I suspect some really exciting opportunities are going to emerge — if we are alert and forward-thinking enough to seize them.
Transparency is going to be key. The number-one issue people have with online health data is privacy. If there's even a whiff that games are being played with what is very, very personal data, the results could set back the change by years. Everyone who touches this new world has to be absolutely upfront, transparent, secure and straightforward. Pharma has lots of examples of this approach being taken in the offline world — think of Johnson & Johnson's response to the Tylenol situation in 1982. We have to adopt this approach going forward.
Ultimately, this is one of those "lead, follow or get out of the way" situations. Change is coming. For once, I hope pharma gets out in front of it.