Why Aren’t Pharmas, Health Plans Paying for EMRs?

The following questions have been bothering me, and I don’t have answers. Maybe readers will be able to fill me in.

As far as I know, pharmaceutical companies haven’t been subsidizing or providing EMR software to medical practices, though I can’t imagine a better opportunity to a) form even closer ties with medical practices and b) get their message in front of physicians every day.

Attorneys, if you’re reading these, feel free to chime in and let me know if I’m not up to date; I realize laws governing donations to physicians are a moving target. But assuming it’s  still legal, I can’t see why pharmas haven’t jumped all over this idea.

I don’t know enough about pharma marketing costs to hazard a guess on what this strategy would generate financially, but I can only imagine it would be a winner.

Another stumper: why aren’t health plans investing in EMRs for their physicians on a large scale?

Not only would EMRs potentially improve efficiency and lower costs, they’d also give the plans an opportunity to build in real-time claims processing. That’s a huge win for both doctors and plans. From what I’ve read, health plans could save billions in paper transaction costs alone if they could use EMRs as a platform to connect processing directly.

As I see it, both of these industries have even better reasons to push EMR adoption than hospitals. Sure, hospitals need to connect with doctors, build loyalty and coordinate care, but the financial upside seems much larger — and more measurable — for pharmas and health plans.

So, this one’s on you, readers.  Why aren’t these other stakeholders getting into the game?  Hell, why aren’t employers taking a stand? (PHR efforts like Dossia don’t count in my view.)  Am I missing something here?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • Pharmaceutical companies are limited by laws in the amounts and types of valuable objects they can give to doctors. They can buy me and my staff lunch for about $100 per month or something like that.

  • Good point, Dr. West, but couldn’t they promote use of a free EMR and add their own content? (Don’t know if Practice Fusion does such deals but you know what I’m getting at I imagine…)

  • I’ve wondered why liability insurance companies don’t give discounts for certified EMRs. Better medical records are certainly in their interest.

    As for insurance companies, with few exceptions they have shown little interest in streamlining any medical administration functions. For example, while HIPAA has caused some simplifications in filing claims, insurance companies could do much more, but have shown little interest.

  • I know — it’s just a matter of emphasis. Banner ads are one thing, “EMR brought to you by (a single pharma)” is another. I haven’t asked them over there, but my guess is that they’re consciously avoiding that approach. However, other vendors might go for it if pharma OR insurers wanted to try a subsidy.

  • Katherine, as a matter of fact pharma companies are looking for EMR/EHR sponsorship opportunities… Unfortunately, Practice Fusion and many other vendors haven’t given much thought to that approach. I would love to know if you are aware of any EMR/EHR software vendors/companies that have a platform that can easily and readily support pharma sponsorship. Pleaselet me know.

  • Irene, this is not exactly on point, but you may want to touch base with the people behind EHRoutlook.com (it serves doctors shopping for EHRs, which may be a good pharma fit).

    As for EMRs that accept pharma advertising, I’m stumped for leads, but I’ll bear your request in mind. I’m pretty confident the opportunities will come. Maybe the AMA’s AMAGINE project will move in that direction?

  • Irene,
    Have you talked to Practice Fusion, Mitochon Systems and the other Free EMR vendors about Pharma sponsorship? I’m surprised by your comment that they haven’t given it much thought. Is this coming from first hand experience talking with them or something you heard second hand?

    I’m interested to learn more.

    As a side note, I’ve wondered why more Pharma companies haven’t looked at advertising on the Healthcare Scene blog network (which includes this site).

  • Katherine, thanks for the heads up on AMAGINE. I will check it out.

    John, yes, my experience comes from first had knowledge from conversations our company has had with PracticeFusion. The haven’t done anything with any advertisers on behalf of pharma and don’t even know if it’s feasible given their platform. This response surprised us as well. I have been trying to get someone from Allscripts to talk to us, but to no avail. As far why pharma doesn’t advertise on healthcare blogs… Some pharmas are still not buying into digital strategy for HCPs that goes beyond a website, so blogging and other social network type of tactics geared toward professionals is way ahead of some pharma companies’ thinking. We are always looking for new ways to open up the white space, but recommending strategies that don’t have even a benchmark of success that we can reference makes it hard for us to sell it as a tactic given current state of pharma’s marketing budgets. John, I would like to hear more of your thoughts privately. Find me on LinkedIn.

    Thank you both for your responses.

  • I don’t quite understand what Irina says above about Practice Fusion not dealing with pharma. I used to see pharma ads on the PF system all the time. But now, come to think of it, I haven’t seen much lately. Maybe something happened.

  • Irina and Dr. West – Practice Fusion does have pharmaceutical companies in our advertising network along with a diverse group of companies, associations and technologies interested in reaching the small medical practice community.

  • ..Having given birth to a specialist medical practice and managed it for more than a decade…doctors are always the villians no matter what..if drug company cartels..literally have decided not to give medical practices…plastic bags to ….put their samples (not anybody elses..) in and give to patients…i find it hilarious about this conversation about drug companies giving away emrs. pharmas are just an extension of drug companies.
    As has been mentioned before..as you have mentioned before insurance companies are looking for cheap care and as long as docs are the butt of trial attorneys why should insurance companies donate emrs. If insurance follow fair practices in handling denials and the government fairly supervises them (and not in the pockets of these companies…as so properly legalized as government lobbying in the 1940s)this country will not be a hostage of the major insurance companies and docs will feel vindicated. Docs have no decision making responsibilities and are not unionized or properly represenated (no time for that),although they are responsible as gods for everything inspite of the treachery of all parties around them. so forget about insurance company or any other related party give aways.

  • Irina
    I am partnered with a Practice Management/EMR/EHR platform (eHealthFiles) and we are in negotiations now with Pharma companies who are interested in subsidizing the platform from many perspectives:
    1. Integration option of a sales visit app for rep’s (details, samples, etc.)
    2. De-identified data procurement (measure brand impact)
    3. Ad placement (lessor priority/ROI)
    I would be open to speaking with you, and as well demo the product…


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