March 25th, 2008

Getting the Word Out

So today – at long last — the distribution of important medical information is fully entering the electronic age.

Earlier today, the Health Care Notification Network, or HCNN, which provides electronic alerts to US physicians, was launched. You can find out more about it here and here, but to really grasp the significance of HCNN, you have to keep in mind how US doctors currently hear about important safety information. Put quite simply, when this info needs to get out, for the most part it is printed and distributed via the postal service. However, through HCNN these alerts will be distributed via e-mail — which will surely be a more effective and efficient way to get the news out. (You can sign up for these alerts here…)

While news about HCNN is spreading, the role Johnson & Johnson played in all of this is not widely known.

My involvement with this project brought me in close contact with Christine Cote – who, while working for our Janssen Pharmaceutica business – came up with the idea of distributing these alerts electronically. Rather than me telling her tale, I thought you might be interested in Christine’s story in her own words…

Six years ago, when I was heading up medical affairs for our Janssen business, one weekend we had to put out an alert about the pain medicine Duragesic. In doing this, I was very surprised to learn how difficult it was to get the notification printed, stuffed in envelopes and out the door – a process further complicated by a snowstorm that blanketed the North East and shut down mail delivery.

If these alerts are really about ensuring patient safety – it occurred to me that they should be distributed much more quickly and efficiently – and why on earth are we not using an email system with receipts. Depending on the mail service is far from ideal. Delays, old addresses, lost letters and all that – plus the difficulties of ensuring that physicians have received the notifications is really not satisfactory.

Relying on a paper-driven system seemed strangely anachronistic given how most businesses had been transformed by e-mail and different online tools almost a decade earlier. With this in mind, I worked very closely with the IT experts at Johnson & Johnson’s specialist group called eJNJ, who then set to work to determine how to make electronic notification a reality.

They couldn’t do it on their own – and so they turned to Medem who then led the charge. Under the leadership of eJNJ, our Regulatory Group, Safety Group, Government Affairs and Communication Group worked with Medem to provide more detailed insight and specifications that would be required for a successful Safety Alert Notification System including meeting with the FDA. The result, after years of hard work by Medem and an unprecedented collaboration with the regulatory authorities, patient advocacy groups, industry and technology companies, is the HCNN. I am now working with Adrian Thomas, our Chief Safety Officer, and each operating company at Johnson & Johnson, to map out our transition from the paper based alert system to the HCNN electronic system. I am very proud that we have been able to take the lead on this initiative to substantially optimize the Product Patient Alerting System.

The work doesn’t end here. HCNN still has to get other companies to join in and there are hundreds of thousands of physicians who have to join the network. For some time, alerting physicians will include using both paper and electronic methods. But creating the network was a big hurdle to overcome. I suspect that once people see what this may mean for patient safety, I’m sure they will join in. And indeed, tens of thousands of physicians have already signed onto the network

3 Responses to “Getting the Word Out”

  1. Michael D. Miller, MD says

    Very interesting development – this should help get information out to physicians efficiently and quickly.

    It also reminded me that back in 1994 or 1995 I helped organize an informal dinner meeting of pharma company and pharmacy association people in Washington DC with someone from the FDA to talk about the implications of the internet for each of these three groups. (Anyone now at J&J remember that meeting?) It was a very interested discussion. As I recall, most of the discussion was around how to control information flow to patients and physicians since there were no international borders for advertising on the internet. However, looking through the retrospectoscope, it is clear that none of us really had a full grasp of how dramatic the changes would be in just 12 or so years. I do remember the person from the FDA was really interested in what we all thought because they were doing their also trying to figure out what they might need to do in response to the internet.

  2. Antoine Clarke says

    …and its not just getting the word out for physicians. The fact that you blogged about this means I can actually get an insider’s view of how someone in the industry sees the hcnn development.

    Which for a reporter who doesn’t have to negotiate a statement from a corporate comms department, is a plus.

    One technical point, there is a danger that messages might get labelled spam and end up in physicians’ junk email folders. There are ways around that problem, but they depend on the type of network you are sending to. I suspect the physicians’ social network (Sermo?) or a site with RSS feeds might be good avenues for communication.

  3. Marc says

    Nice to hear from you, Antione, and really appreciate the thoughts about spam, spam, spam, spam — which I will pass on to the powers that be.

    Yes — Christine really has a great story to tell — and I’m glad others have had a chance to hear it…

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