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HIStalk Interviews William Febbo, CEO, OptimizeRx

August 17, 2022 Interviews No Comments

William J. “Will” Febbo is CEO of OptimizeRx of Rochester, MI.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m CEO and director of OptimizeRx, going into my seventh year. I’ve been in healthcare technology for about 25 years. Early on, I decided to put myself between industry and healthcare providers and patients and try to use technology and data to make that relationship more seamless. That’s obviously a challenge, but both groups need each other. I’m excited to be part of OptimizeRx because It helps me down my personal journey to get those two groups communicating better with technology and data and doing it all compliantly.

OptimizeRx is a health technology platform that enables digital engagement among our clients, life science organizations, healthcare providers, and patients, particularly at critical junctures through the care journey. We reach about 60% of healthcare providers and millions of their patients through this platform that we’ve built over the years, which we call Digital Point of Care Network. We like to say, as a team and in our culture, that we are helping patients start and stay on their medication.

Pharma marketing used to involve aggressive sales reps and buying lunch for doctors. How has that changed?

Even before the pandemic, acts such as HITECH and Sunshine made it nearly impossible to continue the usual lunches, entertainment, connectivity, and building relationships. Then the pandemic hit and made that even harder. The industry is going through a pretty big change right now. Everyone woke up in January 2020 thinking pretty much the same strategy — we’ve got our reps, conferences, and speaker bureaus and we’re figuring out this digital thing to try to make it all smoother.

Then obviously we all had to stay home. What we saw as a company — and I think my peers did as well after talking to other CEOs and team members – was that all of a sudden there were a lot executives from our clients in meetings around digital enablement of connectivity. How to communicate, how to leverage call centers using technology, and how to communicate at the point of care, the point of dispense, and in the waiting room. Obviously digitally, because we were all staying home.

Then in 2021, we saw a lot of micro trying. Pharma tried, either through agencies or directly, lots of different solutions. OptimizeRx has been in the market for a while. This is our seventh year. We like to say we re-founded the business to have a broader platform to approaching communication between industry and doctors and patients. But the pandemic helped awareness and adoption happen. One of the challenges was that a lot of solutions stepped up. They all sound terrific when they’re presented. When you can’t talk to your clients, you’re going to try anything that’s compliant. 

What we have found lately is that pharma is seeing some terrific digital technology and now wants to see who can scale. They are looking at the whole country and then beyond the states as a way to communicate, and not just micro populations and pilot tests with different solutions. 

The pandemic helped pharma lean into digital more, to put continued pressure on the model of people and gatherings, but certainly didn’t kill it. There are lots of questions every day that doctors have for reps in their territories, especially as we’re seeing so many specialty medications come to market. If you think of how many medications people are on and the type of conflicts those can have, then there are questions. So that infrastructure is needed, but I think we’re going to see a wonderful hybrid of digital enablement and people working together and pharma helping that move as fast as possible.

In a perfect world, pharma marketing would benefit the patient, the prescriber, and the sponsor company more than just blasting ads to increase product use.

That’s right. We focused in on two solutions. TeleRep is a connectivity point in the workflow of EHR that the doctor can click on and connect to their local rep to either email or text a quick question. We found in a newly launched six-month case study, and this happened to be in the autoimmune area, that 89% of the brand reps were contacted. It’s a button in the workflow.

There’s not much hard about that, other than getting it there and making sure the doctors are aware of it, but we saw a 42% increase in the engagement over the baseline. It was relevant, timely engagement and support at a time where people had questions and the reps couldn’t be in the hospital. We think there’s some real benefit that’s coming out of the connectivity, but the key is being in that workflow and being present because doctors are on EHRs a big part of their day.

We also launched a real-world data evidence solution that addresses the lack of interoperability between EHRs. We gather data on a patient cohort from various sources. We then build an algorithm around a mechanism of action so that we can compare a patient in workflow to a set or cohort of patients and trigger the appropriate message to the physician at the right time. Targeted, data-driven, and highly relevant. For our clients, we uncovered a significant opportunity and saw an increase of their addressable physician audience of about 200%.

We hear a lot about the newfound effectiveness of inserting information into the clinician’s workflow. How will companies and organizations avoid the clinical decision support dilemma, where users get so frustrated with unwanted or unhelpful interruptive messages that they tune them out completely?

We work with our partners. Their clients are physicians. Through our Innovation Lab, we partner with these EHRs and hone in on the pain points or friction points that frustrate physicians when in the care journey.

Trying to come up with a platform that tells a doctor what to do clinically is not wise. They can do that. The key is giving them tools that help them get information that is highly relevant. Not tangentially relevant, but directly relevant is the key. We also heard from talking to physicians and our partners — no more clicks, no popups, don’t disrupt the workflow. That’s key to keeping the noise out of that care journey.

People with good intentions have come up with lots of solutions, but there’s always a sentence at the end that says, “They just need to go to this app or just need to go to this website.” That’s the hardest part of those models. Physicians aren’t looking for another app. They’re not looking for another website. They really don’t like working in the EHR, but they have to. The key is focusing in on reducing friction, actually reducing time on the tech, and bringing the right tools and information at the right time. That’s hard to do if you’re not integrated, because otherwise, you’re asking them to go somewhere else, and frankly, they don’t want to.

How can technology support the increasing use of specialty drugs and their associated information burden?

It’s a huge problem. You have awareness prior to prescribing, but then a whole host of problems post-prescribing. Pharma has used specialty pharmacy contracts and also hubs to try to make that better for the patient. We had a partnership with a company called EvinceMed last year, which built technology to give an alert about which specialty pharmacy should go with a prescription. They did some of the prior authorization work between the EHR and the specialty pharmacies and the hubs.

We ended up acquiring that company earlier this year because we saw such a friction point, so much frustration with the doctors and the patients and the hubs, and the whole ecosphere. This was a really elegant technology. A couple of other companies are doing it as well, but it’s a big space with so many new medications that have different distribution channels.

Specialty drugs are expensive and complex and involve a lot of questions. Just calling through the pharmacy is not going to do it 100% of the time. The technology that we acquired and that others have is trying to take that friction out, focused on specialty only, not the general meds or the volume meds through retail. We’re pretty excited about that space. And the same way we help agencies help pharma, we see an opportunity to help the hubs help their clients. Technology is going to be a friend to that problem.

Many digital health companies have taken a hard fall in share price along with layoffs. What factors will determine which ones succeed or even survive?

We and our peers have all taken it on the chin. There’s different reasons for different sectors, but what the pandemic did to the investor base was get them excited about solutions that can help with health. That’s happened in fintech and in the consumer world and it rushed into health. There really aren’t that many public companies that can scale.

You had a real rush of retail and institutional investment. In the exuberance, there were some mergers and acquisitions that frankly just either didn’t make sense or couldn’t sustain what was promised. The investor base, at least the one I talk to, is looking at who has a long-term, sustainable competitive advantage. Who’s your client? Is it pharma? Is it a payer? Is it the government? Is it providers? There’s just so much more awareness now.

As pharma leans more towards digital, they are going to look for clients that scale. That makes it a good opportunity for investors. They can look at companies that are public and private that have true connectivity to an HCP or patient and can improve care and not just be a website.

I’m excited about the space. Most of us get into healthcare to actually make a difference and don’t get too caught up in stock price. That’s what I tell my team. Our culture is not about the stock price. It’s about helping patients start and stay on therapy. If you just delight the client and focus there, you’ll build a great business. We’re all getting over the drop in valuation and are focused more on the clients, doctors, and patients.

What will be important to the company over the next three or four years?

We are focused on our clients being connected digitally to doctors and patients wherever they are. We want to help patients start and stay on therapy. We want to get rid of friction. We’ve made huge progress in the almost two years since you and I last spoke. We have enhanced the leadership team, won all sorts of really cool awards around that RWD solution, and added some great people in AI and just great team members. The issue of communication has only gotten more challenging. It’s still a fragmented way to get to people. We will not only have the platform to facilitate that, but it will be omnichannel as well. We’ll be able to get to them wherever they are, whether that’s in the hospital setting, at home, on their cell phone, or in the pharmacy.

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