Why EMR Pharmaceutical Ads Work Fine for Me

Some EMR systems such as my own are funded through a business model supported by coporate ads for such things as drugs and computer systems.  However, some critics like to tout that these EMR systems are ad-driven and hence have the potential to influence prescribing behaviors of providers.  They say that there are costs of an ethical nature.  I would beg to differ with this type of pure approach to practicing medicine in 2011.  We should consider that drug companies are here to stay, and we are already bombarded by the media ads and commercials on television that display pharmaceutical ads all the time.  It’s impossible to stop their input into our daily lives as providers and as citizens in general.  Moreover, most providers have a set group of medications they are comfortable with and are only influenced to try new or different drugs in the setting of actually needing to, as opposed to just seeing an ad.   In all my years, I have never met anyone who actually claimed to have begun prescribing a drug because of seeing an ad.

Aside from the media, insurance companies influence prescribing behaviors far more than drug ads on EMRs can ever come close to.  Insurance plans can actually deny certain drugs to the patient and make it very difficult for a provider to go through a ton of red tape to get a non-preferred drug approved.  So much red tape, in fact, that the doctor often just changes the prescription to the preferred drug to avoid extra and unnecessary phone calls and paperwork.  The insurance company doesn’t care that the preferred drug may be inferior, as it often is, from my perspective.  The drug and insurance companies are merely bed partners in these cases.

Finally, I’d love to know the stats on how many critics of drug ads in EMR systems would be willing to pay even a small fee per month to use the EMR in the absence of such ads.  Oh, to be the fly on that wall. 🙂

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC.  He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC, as a solo practice in 2009.  He can be reached at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

About the author

Dr. Michael West

Dr. Michael West

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC in 2009. He can be contacted at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.


  • Interesting perspective. My only question is if they don’t influence doctors, then why does pharma pay for these ads? Obviously they’re having some effect or pharma would stop paying for them. Unless you want to make the argument that Pharma has so much money that they just throw it at ads with the hopes that it will have some effect.

    Maybe the difference you’re trying to highlight is that the ads don’t play inappropriate influence on your prescribing habits. However, they can introduce new drug options to you or other types of education which you then incorporate into your practice?

  • You know, I hadn’t thought of that angle. I’m sure you are right and there is some data that the ads must bring in revenue to some extent. I also would agree that pharma does have so much money that I could see them burning some of it on a few lottery ticket ads to take chances. Even one extra prescription for a chronically needed drug would pay off in spades over a patient’s lifetime. As for introducing new drug options, these ads would be way late. Drug ads seem to hit the media and TV far before I’ve seen them on my EMR. Now, how exactly do you define inappropriate influence? 🙂

  • Guys Couple of key points. These systems are not just advertizing vehicles, they are also a network of physicians that organizations such as an IPA use to send clinical messages etc Also they can be used by the FDA for rapid dissemination of critical information. With regards to advertising the targetted nature of the medium allows Pharma to actually invest less and display to the right target which is where the value lies, it may not be a pharma add it can also be a Cardiologists Association advertising for a regional conference etc. Do Pharma have large demand creation budgets? Yes equal to the ARRA stimulus every year. Is there a trend to digital media? Yes Why because it is a more efficient way to get access to physicians AND patients. I can share the statistics with you if you wish. All these companies and we are one of the two main ones are doing is leveraging the Google model. If they charged a penny for search would they be where they are now? We suspect not same as facebook charging 10 cents per friend!
    The reason we can be “financial” is the fact that we employ a non distributed architecture, we do not send discs out or need downloads, we take care of the tech, we price it attractively using alternate revenue streams and the Physician can look after patients and his staff are happy with a useable system. The analogies
    AOL was once the darling of the dial up internet world, by not evolving they are now pretty much defunct, similar to the today’s physician gouging EMR companies will be in the future.
    TV was written off as unlikely to succeed using an ad model when it was launched, how many do you have in your house and how many hours are watched today? You may even have one in your waiting room!
    The need fo rdigital medical informatiomn is great and real, the more important need is to move that data so physicians have access to it when needed. The sustainability of the model, when our ethos is physicians should not pay for Health IT, is paramount. Alternative revenue models will trump physician gouging solutions in the me term The link below is an interesting third party testimonial form a vert traditional Physician!

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