The medical app industry is a big business, but the apps are no longer the product – the physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers who use them are. In the first part of this series, we examined some of the financial forces driving the medical app industry. Our focus then was Epocrates, the veritable founder of the industry. As is clearly stated in their recent SEC statement, Epocrates primary revenue stream has become the pharmaceutical industry and as such a key goal has become to further grow their user base by enhancing their free offerings.

Now, one might be tempted to say that this is just one company or even that it is just limited to free apps. An expected counter-example would be Skyscape, which probably has the largest cache of apps of any developer and nearly all for fee. As a private company, there isn’t much financial data available nor is the website particularly forthcoming, but it does appear that the company has been enjoying some success. A deeper look however suggests they in fact have more in common with Epocrates than you may think.

In 2009, Skyscape became part of rather complicated web of companies when it was acquired by Physicians Interactive Holdings (PIH), a “direct to healthcare provider” marketing company. The PIH family includes several holdings and services that provide marketing services to healthcare providers, including:

  • drug sample programs driven by an acquisition of MedManage and partnership with SampleMD
  • a physician relationship management platform
  • and a partnership with Allscripts that integrates marketing services into their EMR.
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    Skyscape is one part of this rather complicated web, which is actually ultimately owned by a large holding company called Perseus. That brings us to a far larger web which includes various pharmaceutical and device companies including Cardiac Sciences Corp, Ascenta Therapeutics, PhotoMedex Inc, and others.

    For now, we’ll just stick to Physicians Interactive, where it’s clear that there is movement to develop Skyscape as another marketing channel. One example is Skyscapes eGuides, free conference guides that, according to PIH,

    provides sponsorship opportunities to life science companies, allowing them to reach thousands of HCPs in a new venue and format.

    Another program, RepAssist, allows pharmaceutical reps to purchase suites of Skyscape apps and distribute them for free to physicians. There are many other similar examples of integration of medical apps and pharmaceutical marketing – eResource Centers, Smartlink, and MedAlert are a few.

    So what’s the point? Quite simply that the financial trends, namely pharmaceutical marketing investment, are not isolated to free apps. This is by no means an argument for or against pharmaceutical marketing – it’s merely a look into the realities of the industry. Ultimately, the incentives of our current healthcare structure mean pharmaceutical companies will continue to aggressively market their products to healthcare providers. As healthcare providers, it is important that we know about the factors shaping the content at our fingertips. Only then can we become the drivers, instead of the followers, of the coming changes in medicine.

    We’d love to hear what you think about the partnership of free medical apps and pharma via our comment section below.