In the world of smartphone apps for physicians, Epocrates plays a leading role. The Epocrates iPhone app is free (with a $99 PREMIUM upgrade option) to physicians -- and anyone else -- who can use the app to find information on drug dosing, interactions and insurance coverage while seeing a patient. According to a New York Times article (see here), 70% of Epocrates' revenue comes from pharma point-of-care advertising; ie, messages from pharma advertisers that pop up as "DocAlerts" when the app is used to look up drugs, etc.
Some docs complain about the messaging, claiming they don't have time for that "nonsense." A few reviews on the iPhone app store suggest this is a common complaint:
"why must I be badgered with your alerts?"
"Paid for 'premium' subscription, getting nagging pharma clinical alerts that are rarely useful. Alerts don't go away unless you tap through them. If this is the case, should be free app."
According to the NYT article, "Epocrates is betting that the 320,000 physicians who use its apps, much like those who use Google and other advertising-supported data services, will tolerate some marketing to get the information they want at no charge." However, unlike Google, ads delivered directly to doctors while delivering care can have a much greater influence over their prescribing. If you are of the opinion that advertised drugs are usually more expensive and sometimes less safe than generics, then pharma paid DocAlerts (ads) are not in the best interests of patients and payors.
For pharmaceutical manufacturers, Drug information apps such as offered by ePocrates and ePrescribing may offer a new channel to influence physician prescribing at the point of care. “The beauty of the work we do with Epocrates is that we literally put ourselves in the palm of their hand,” said Dr. Freda Lewis Hall, chief medical officer at Pfizer.
Being in the doc's palm is one thing, but interrupting his/her workflow is another. When is it appropriate to "interrupt" physicians with commercial messages at the point of care? There are several more or less disruptive ways to provide messages in apps at the point of care, including:
- Ads appear via a splash screen when doc turns on PDA, smartphone, or iPad. The message not related to any prescribing transaction.
- Specific targeted messages are "triggered" by doc's drug lookup choice, demographic, and/or prescribing history and designed to influence doc's prescribing decision.
- Non-targeted messages delivered before, during, or after the prescribing process.
- ePrescribing: What Role Should Pharma Play?
- Ready or Not: Gearing Up for the Expansion of ePrescribing