Late getting to this, but wanted to comment on a good post by physician-blogger Howard Brody about Epocrates and how smartphone apps are replacing the drug rep office visit.

Brody points to a recent New York Times story about Epocrates, a company that markets a free smartphone app with drug information for physicians. According to the Times, pharma dollars account for 70 percent of Epocrates’ revenue. There are similar apps that are independent of industry ad money, but they cost something—UpToDate, which the Times highlights, costs between $395-$495 (which seems pretty reasonable in the context of physician earnings).

“Docs love Epocrates because its smartphone app is free,” Brody writes.

That’s probably true – see the Free Lunch Phenomenon. But despite (or alongside) the pharma ads, Epocrates also offers information on all the insurance company and public program formularies so a prescriber can actually check on the tier, coverage and cost to patients in the exam room if she wants to.  Whatever the reason, it seems physicians have been opting for Epocrates free model — which is free, of course, because pharmaceutical companies are underwriting the Rx info to get this 2.0 face time.

The Times dug up this assessment that the former chief of Epocrates, Kirk Loevner, made in an online interview: “It is a unique market, unlike any I have seen before…You have a drug industry that spends $14 billion a year to influence people who prescribe drugs. There are only 600,000 people who are allowed to prescribe drugs, so there is $14 billion spent against 600,000 people. If you have a channel to reach these physicians, it is a gold mine.”

A crushingly simple equation.

Brody writes:

The drug companies have recently been cutting back on their drug rep sales force, both to reduce costs as fewer brand name blockbusters remain on the market, but also because they see a greater marketing advantage in Internet and electronic approaches to practitioners–like Epocrates. Epocrates seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to who it works for–the docs or the drug industry. Which side is winning?

How long are we in medicine going to keep thinking we can get goodies for free and yet we won’t be biased and that the real goal is education, not marketing?

–Kate Petersen, PostScript blogger