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(This is the sixth in 10-part blog series on industry trends that are shaping the future of healthcare. To see a report on all ten trends click here)

Comprehensive, transparent and secure data exchange is the cornerstone of an interoperable systems framework, and the platform upon which real world information is now being captured and exchanged across the healthcare system.

In the past few years we have seen a wave of new connections based on an influx of electronic data capture and sharing amongst physicians, payers, pharmacies and researchers. The growing flexibility with which we can gather and share data is having a tremendous impact on our ability to spur research, eliminate errors, and make knowledge based judgments about individual care and population trends. E-prescribing continues to proliferate, linking physicians to pharmacies and payers. Physicians are also linking with other physicians using electronic health records (EHR), which continue to cascade through the market. Not only do we see this within local systems, such as Integrated Healthcare Delivery Networks, but also across healthcare communities including the platform sponsored by the American Medical Group Association.

Physicians and payers aren’t the only ones controlling this information exchange. Patients are taking an active role as well, participating in the gathering and sharing of information as they take on a more hands-on role in their care and research around their diseases of interest. Patients are connecting with each other to share information and resources through patient advocacy groups, and they are connecting with caregivers and web-based health information providers through the Internet -- as evidenced by the fact that 66% of U.S. adults go online to research their health conditions. We are also seeing patients connecting with physicians via remote monitoring for specialty areas, though this is an area that is still in its infancy.

As healthcare industry stakeholders invest in the technology and process to encourage these connections we expect to see a further wave of innovative projects designed to spur better and more effective information sharing networks. The federal IT program, for example, is expanding its Blue Button connector, which lets veterans create a single file to securely store their health records online. And payers are now exploring ways to intervene at the point-of-care with real-time, real-world data in order to change the behavior of providers and patients within their system.

As these connections take hold, they won’t just open up access to information. They will have a powerful influence on decision-making, at the patient, physician and payer level. To stay ahead of this trend, biopharma leaders need to pay close attention to how these exchanges impact these decisions to ensure that shifting influence doesn’t negatively impact their business strategies.

How should biopharma respond?

Focusing first on the most acute value inflection point, e-prescribing, life science firms must accurately diagnose the market challenge. Studies have shown that physicians are more likely to prescribe generics when e-prescribing, an approach that channels both product label information and payer policy details including formulary status directly to the physician-patient in real-time at the point of care.

If business leaders in life science companies want to impact that decision chain, they have to work with payers to shape the unprecedented influence they have on prescribing by clearly demonstrating value and earning preferred consideration in this channel. One option is to surround each product with support services in order to deter generic encroachment. A product linked with a support network of valuable component services is not as readily switched as a stand-alone product.

Carrying this strategy further and playing to the consumerism theme, life science firms can tailor these support services directly with patients to enhance brand loyalty. Educational material on product benefit-risk profile, drug-to-drug interactions and drug-to-food interactions can be provided to enrich customer relationships with the brand, and to deliver comprehensive insights about products. Going beyond the product, biopharma companies will need to incorporate educational areas such as diet, exercise and health screening information (while complying with regulatory requirements not to provide medical advice) to further deepen customer relationships with the brand and to engender loyalty and trust among the user population.

As an industry, biopharma cannot control how information is shared or how that sharing affects decisions made, but they can be sure the information that is linked to their product adds value to the patient, provider and payer thus increasing the chance that their brand benefits from the virtual conversations that are now taking place.

Topics in this blog post: Biopharma, Healthcare, Population Health