William J. “Will” Febbo is CEO of OptimizeRx of Rochester, MI.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’ve been the CEO and director of OptimizeRx for the last five years. I have 20 years experience in health technology. More specifically, I always find myself drawn to the challenge of connecting the life science industry with healthcare providers like doctors, both clinically and commercially. I focus on technology, data, and compliance as the key drivers.
OptimizeRx is a digital health platform that focuses on bringing adherence and affordability solutions to healthcare providers, patients, and the life science industry. We are publicly listed on the Nasdaq.
What are the ethical considerations involved with presenting sponsored product information to physicians within their EHR workflows?
We are highly focused on that. Our goal is to help drive positive patient outcomes by supporting patient affordability and overall adherence to doctor-recommended treatment plans. The doctor is driving the bus here, and anything we do is going to be triggered by activity the doctor is doing.
The market is fragmented. Doctors use electronic health records from many companies and spend hours a day on them. The last things we would want to do is add more clicks and distraction that would slow down their day and or bring content that’s just not relevant to that point-of-care experience.
We have a strong filter. Our partners have a strong filter. When you are trying to help patients and doctors with affordability and adherence, it’s really about connecting at the right time with the right people. There are certainly rules that apply. Compliance is a big piece for me when you’re trying to help in this arena. We understand that incredibly well, as do our EHRs who manage all the data. We have several filters layered in there, plus laws, and we respect them all greatly. We are helping the doctor prescribe what they want, then helping the patient afford that based on the insurance they have.
The other piece of the equation is that once people have their medication, how do you help them stay on it? We’re a big believer in SMS text as a way to stay connected to the patient once they have double opted in on that. We see compelling results when they make that choice. They are always given the flexibility to not engage or to stop being engaged.
How do you decide the best opportunities to pursue now that you have created the network and are engaging participants in it?
We have a team that has a lot of depth in terms of the life science industry, as well as the technology around networks. We focus on is the patient journey, the care journey, that we’ve all experienced personally. It sounds like industry talk, but you feel something, you go to the doctor in various settings, you’re then in the system through diagnosis and prescription, and then you pick up medication or have it delivered. We focus on the pain points for our clients, the doctors, and the patients along that journey. If we don’t meet those three criteria, we just don’t do it.
This is not a pure advertising model. This is a model where the life science industry can bring messages — mostly clinical in nature, mostly unbranded — and give the doctor some information at a time when they’re thinking about a particular disease or therapeutic area. Then as the patient is leaving that setting, we want to be able to stay with them and help them understand and afford the medication treatment and to have the support be there. It’s through a mobile device and chatbot, which sounds like it isn’t real, but it’s better than being alone and often that additional support is what keeps people on the therapy the doctor has selected.
How do you connect your innovation lab to the folks who assess market need?
The innovation lab is really exciting. We partner with our channel partners, which can be an EHR, someone at point of dispense and retail pharmacy, or someone who does digital appointment scheduling. We focus in on those pain points.
What has been exciting over the last few years for all of us — not just OptimizeRx, but other people in this space — is that we have both sides of the equation, the clients who can finance it and the users, providers and patients who are engaged and open to using these new methods of connectivity.
When I came in about five years ago, this company had one solution, which was focused on basically digitizing the co-pay and getting that to the doctor so they could enable it for a prescription after selection and help the patient. When we looked at all that, and we looked at our partners, we saw that there were just so many other solutions that we could bring that could address a pain point for the client, the physician, the patient, or all three. We focus on those at the innovation lab.
We have in the recent past rolled out a hub-enrollment forms, which is in-workflow digitized, which is a pain point for physicians, anyone in the administrative side within a physician’s office, and the patient. It simplifies the paperwork process and the signatures required to process hub enrollment for a specialty medication.
We’ve also rolled out something called TelaRep. This came out of the disruption that the life science industry saw with their sales reps. Physicians can, within the workflow of the EHR, reach out to a sales representative with a question. They can do that by text or email, saying give me a call or they can do it actually through a telehealth type of video type interaction. We are really proud of that one because it, first of all, we had the technology, so we went to the innovative lab partners and said, look what we can do. Pharma had a real challenge with reps being at home, but doctors still have questions. If you look at the number of questions doctors had that went through the MyViva program and others, it’s exponentially higher. It showed that reps answer a lot of questions for doctors, around dosage, mostly.
Those are two examples of solutions that came out of the innovation lab, where we’re close to the partners. We could talk to the clients and we could launch them all within six months, which we are very proud of.
What motivates EHR vendors to give you access to their workflows?
They are focused on their members. Helping doctors deliver care. Having the right tools to do that, to effectively try to spend less time on the EHR and more time with the patient. When we bring solutions like TelaRep and hub enrollment, it’s clear that that’s a tool for the doctor. That’s a pain point.
The other things that doctors have highlighted to the EHR partners is financial burden and any way you can bring those costs down. Patient education is another one. Prior authorization is another pain point that companies like CoverMyMeds address. We focus in on those pain points, and our partners know those pain points even more than we do because they hear from their members, the physicians. It’s a good filter test to not bring things that wouldn’t work for the doctor.
How has the pandemic changed the use of your product?
The life science industry has billions of dollars set aside for co-pay programs. We saw an increase in demand and awareness for that given the disruption in the economy for people. We also focus on specialty medications more than the gen meds, and while gen med certainly dropped because office visits dropped, you can’t go off specialty medications. You really have to stay on them.
We saw our partners who didn’t have telehealth solutions immediately adopt it any way they could just so that they could keep a sidecar to the EHR, keep that connectivity going. We were impressed with how that was handled by everybody, because that’s a behavioral shift. Adoption rates were relatively low around telehealth and they went immediately high because they had to. The good news for everybody — patients, doctors, industry, and our EHR partners – since it is an efficiency all around. It should save time and money and keep care going through times of disruption.
Are you receiving inquiries about how your platform could help with distribution of a potential coronavirus vaccine?
When this pandemic hit in February for all of us here in the States, we as a team obviously immediately went to no travel and stay at home, like everybody. But we said, let’s make our technology available for doctors and patients for CDC alerts. Let’s just do that. Let’s not charge anything, let’s just do it for free. That’s our way of helping in a small way and it felt really good.
We immediately put those CDC alerts into the workflow for our partners. Doctors were able to see them. We allowed patients to set up an SMS text program for free, which is still active. I view the short term in a similar format. We have an opportunity to help our clients get to those targeted populations of patients that are going to be needing to take the vaccine first.
This is not going to be a rollout for everyone to take it. The CDC will segment the market, find those in need, and go to there first. We think we have a great position to help our clients through that network and we stand ready to do it. Some of those conversations are starting. Obviously we all were thrilled to see the news from Pfizer this week. I think we’ll see others, but there’s still a lot of logistics between today and when they would need to communicate to the HCPs.
This week’s earnings call had a lot of enthusiasm and momentum that struck me as being more genuine that I sometimes hear. You’ve made a couple of key acquisitions, are using your innovation lab, and your product is doing well. Where do you want to take the company in the next several years?
We are small enough to be incredibly sincere. As you get bigger, it does get a little harder, but culture is big and we’re all in it to help outcomes and build a business.
We cited a McKinsey study that found that nearly 70% of US consumers use an online channel to manage health and wellness. Over 50% of US healthcare providers are digital omnivores who use three or more connected device professionally. I think of the network that we have already created and how we are expanding into retail and devices connected to medical professionals and patients.
I see us as becoming a preferred digital communication platform for life sciences, principally patients and doctors, while being focused on affordability, adherence, and a little bit of care management. We are very fired up to get this kind of behavioral shift, which a lot of marketing dollars can’t even buy. Something has to push the shift.
I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and pharma is incredibly innovative clinically, but cautious commercially. We are at a stage where a lot of the digital solutions combine data-driven insights, compliance, and transparency, and those are matching nicely with the devices we all carry and use and our expectations for them. We do our banking. We do our shopping. Why wouldn’t we manage our health there? It makes for an exciting next three to five years as we try to reach more physicians, reach more patients, and help our clients drive outcomes.