Pharmaceutical companies sponsor free mobile health apps to reach physicians

Who's really paying for that "free" healthcare app your doctors are using?

Reviewers at iMedicalApps this week posed a troubling answer: Pharmaceutical companies.

Physician Satish Misra blogged on the site about behind-the-scenes relationships between health app developers and pharma firms. Two cases-in-point: Financial success for mHealth giants Epocrates and MedScape is no longer as tied to their ultra-popular apps, but rather to marketing and research relationships with pharmaceutical companies, Misra writes. For example, sponsored content on Epocrates links to pharmaceutical companies for drug samples. Such relationships generated $23 million in the first quarter of this year alone, according to Epocrates' latest SEC filings.

Epocrates itself appears to affirm the pharma connection, stating that "through our interactive services, we provide the healthcare industry, primarily pharmaceutical companies, access to our user network to deliver targeted information and conduct market research in a cost-effective manner," in its 10-Q.

Misra is quick to point out that he's not questioning Epocrates' corporate integrity, and acknowledges that Epocrates has distanced its medical content from its sponsored content.

"What this [article] is, however, meant to illustrate is simply that providers should be conscious of the forces at play in medicine," he says.

iMedicalApps isn't the only one making the pharma/health app connection. MobileMarketingWatch late last year predicted the future of pharmaceutical companies would in part rely on their using smartphones for marketing to physicians.

"Being in such permanent proximity opens up completely new possibilities to interact with the industry's key clients. There are apps that support interaction between pharma companies and doctors as well as numerous examples of cases where doctors have willingly given feedback about apps to improve the app's usefulness," editors said.

Healthcare research firm Ernst & Young in February this year hinted that pharmaceutical companies would have to develop a far closer relationship with the provider community than in the past. In fact, company officials encouraged pharma firms to build entirely new business models based on mobile health apps (and the data they generate) "including disease management, coordinated care, and an expansion across different stages of care," Ernst & Young officials said.

To learn more:
- read the iMedicalApps commentary
- go through the Epocrates 10-Q filing
- get more detail from DailyFinance's coverage
- learn more from Ernst & Young's report
- dig into MobileMarketingWatch's article