NaRCAD's Interview Series: Public Health Detailing Program at New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH)
Featuring Michelle Dresser, MPH, Senior Manager, Programming & Strategy
Thanks for taking the time to share the great clinical outreach education work that’s being done by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Michelle! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in public health, specifically public health detailing.
Michelle: Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the Public Health Detailing Program. I have over 20 years of public health experience in both the non-profit and government setting, with the last 12 here at the New York City DOHMH. Throughout my professional career, my specialty has been in healthcare marketing and provider education, emphasizing how providers and consumers can better communicate with each other by tailoring complex messages using health literacy principles.
It’s essential our reps have excellent selling and communications skills, so when they engage providers and get their buy-in, providers are then equipped to get their patients “on board”. One-on-one provider engagement helps them understand how important it is to have a 2-way communication with patients.
How can an outreach representative encourage providers to “get on board” and think about care as a dialogue?
Michelle: Let’s use obesity as an example. With obesity, both providers and patients are frustrated, for different reasons. Providers may be frustrated that patients’ comorbid conditions are being exacerbated or don’t have the same kinds of tools to treat obesity as they do other conditions; patients might feel that providers aren’t using great communication techniques, like motivational interviewing (MI), to help them set goals and take small steps towards the goal.
If a patient is only told, “You need to lose weight,” which is such a broad and overarching goal, they’ll be frustrated, and frankly, non-adherent. I know I would be.
Encouraging providers to have specific dialogues using a customized approach for each patient is important. This kind of dialogue takes into account patients’ literacy beyond the written and spoken word—it looks at scientific, fundamental, health and cultural literacy, too.
We work on “coaching scripts”, which take the key recommendations and reframes them in order to custom-tailor the conversation for each patient.
One thing that’s unique about public health detailing is that we detail the whole team through one-on-one interactions. Evidence shows these types of interactions with providers and staff are more effective at changing behavior; however, sometimes due to the makeup of the practice we must conduct group presentations. It’s not ideal, but it still allows us to get the messages and materials out there.
So when an outreach representative goes into an office, they detail...everyone?
Michelle: If there are 15 people who work in an office, we’re going to detail all 15 of them. It’s a lot! Sometimes, the person who is the champion of a new behavior or workflow isn’t going to be the provider. We see the front desk staff as instrumental; they’re interacting with all of the patients. We work with our teams to ensure even the front desk staff receives the materials and information, rather than seeing them merely as a “gatekeeper” to get to the providers.
Sounds like a lot of training goes into preparing for your campaigns, and for thinking about the entire process of effective outreach. Tell us more about your trainings, and about how you prepare outreach representatives on disease content training, as well as in marketing and communications skills.
Michelle: On average, our trainings are about 5 days in length and take place the week prior to launching a new campaign. About 40 percent of the training is disease content, so we work with our internal Health Department experts, as well as external experts, where we learn about prevention strategies, treatment strategies, epidemiology and the landscape around the key recommendations chosen based on the evidence of that topic. We need to know the ‘why’ behind the campaign.
Once we have that under our belt, we shift to sessions on how to frame the issue, how to promote the materials, figuring out the “features and benefits” as well as the “barriers and objections” and finally “gaining a commitment”, which are phrases that come from pharmaceutical marketing. We’re “selling” and promoting public health interactions, so we work on those skills.
We also do a great deal of role playing, including videotaped analysis of each rep. We look at body language, what communication skills are effective, we do knowledge assessments, quizzes—we make sure our team is well-prepared to go out and detail. We take this seriously—they’re representing the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
What’s a major barrier your program has faced, and how have you tackled it?
Michelle: A big challenge, when starting a detailing program, is access. The landscape of healthcare systems in NYC has drastically changed over the past few years. As an example, several years ago, the majority of our Brooklyn territory was almost entirely made of up of small practices where access wasn’t an issue.
What’s changed since then?
Michelle: Now, many of these sites have become part of larger institutions, so there’s corporate buy-in that needs to happen for people to come in and talk to the staff. As I mentioned before, although we try and limit group presentations, this has proven to be an effective strategy when entering into a new relationship. Once they get to know us and recognize the value of the program, they’re engaged in having us come back to conduct 1:1 visits on the follow-up and subsequent campaigns.
How do you know when a campaign is working and becoming successful?
Michelle: Evaluation is always on the top of our priorities, and can be a challenge for any program to evaluate effectiveness. For every campaign we conduct an initial and follow-up visit where we assess provider practice.
This allows us to see if there has been a change in practice from the initial to the follow-up visit. Additionally, we rate what providers intend to adopt in terms of the key recommendations and supporting tools and resources. We also collect a large amount of qualitative data because it's also critical to gaining a more complete picture of the campaign’s success, especially when reporting on barriers, access and materials.
You can scale this up or down, depending on your need and organizational priorities. Our program focuses on where there’s the greatest need and potential for greatest impact.
Programs should make sure to look at their organization’s agenda and goals. It’s important to look at the data and plan the best course of action within the capacity you have.
Biography: Michelle Dresser. Michelle Dresser is the Senior Manager of Programming and Strategy for the Public Health Detailing Program within the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In this role, she oversees the overall programmatic direction and strategy of the program. This includes, campaign strategy and timing, campaign content, training and economic incentive development, provider selection, identification of targets to ensure the greatest impact on populations most in need, and identification of “new needs” opportunities to expand program reach and achievement of program goals. She also oversees internal and external strategic relationships to enhance programmatic objectives.
Bevin K. Shagoury, Communications & Education Director
Our most recent 2-day Academic Detailing Techniques Training was held here in Boston on May 4th and 5th, 2015, and it was a successful and exciting convening of 18 trainees from all over the country. Clinical pharmacists, nurses, and program specialists gathered in Boston’s downtown to learn and practice social marketing techniques to use when educating front line clinicians about new evidence and important interventions.
Our trainees will take these valuable skills back to a wide range of programs, with goals including improving health for veterans with PTSD, increasing referrals to smoking cessation programs, and strengthening chronic disease lifestyle management programs.
Many of us have attended trainings and conferences heavy on Powerpoint presentations and light on practicing tangible skills. At NaRCAD, we use a dynamic curriculum wherein we integrate role-play, interactive large and small-group discussion, live demonstrations of a successful academic detailing visit, reflection through videography, ongoing networking, and the chance to learn from experts, clinicians, and colleagues through practice and skills sharing.
After their training sessions are done, trainees move forward to establish new academic detailing programs, strengthen and develop existing ones, or use our techniques in other clinical education settings. And as their work continues, so does ours—we maintain contact with our trainees, providing critical resources and featuring their work on our website and DETAILS blog. This fall, we’ll be featuring partner profiles of many of our trainees’ academic detailing programs, so that our community can learn about the critical role these programs play in improving health outcomes.
Join us at our next training this September—a program one recent trainee describes as “an excellent program, with fabulous faculty, and a well-run, valuable service to the healthcare community.” We keep improving our curriculum to ensure that each of our trainees gets personalized support to make their work easier. Their appreciation and feedback helps us to refine our training, encouraging us to think about ways we can continue to provide the best resources available. As the field continues to grow, so do we—and our trainees tell us that we’re making an impact by leveraging their work, sharing best practices, and running “the best training I’ve ever been to—seriously!”
by Jerry Avorn, M.D., NaRCAD Co-Director
A number of academic detailing programs began in the 1990s or early 2000s, when the cost of many useful medications in primary care was prohibitive. Some were available then only as expensive brand-name products: clopidogrel (Plavix) as an anti-platelet agent, alendronate (Fosamax) for osteoporosis. Others could plausibly be replaced in some patients by similar agents in the same class: atorvastatin (Lipitor) for elevated cholesterol, celecoxib (Celebrex) for arthritis and pain, omeprazole and esomeprazole (Prilosec and Nexium) for acid-peptic disease. Then came the game-changing developments around 2011-2012, when the patents on blockbuster drugs like Lipitor and Plavix expired. This was referred to as the “patent cliff” by some; others dubbed it “Pharmageddon.”
Meanwhile, discount drug stores, led by Wal-Mart, had been introducing the $4-a-month generic prescription. Within a short period of time, most common drug categories had one or more key medications available that made it possible to manage many common primary care problems—hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes—for a modest monthly cost.
While these developments were a boon to patients and payors, they were not good news for the large pharma companies, which had to reassess their business models in the post-blockbuster era. But Pharmageddon also had an impact on another, much smaller group: the tiny international academic detailing community. Many sponsors of academic detailing programs had been attracted by the prospect that promoting evidence-based practice could also help contain rising drug costs. While that was never the main goal of such work for many of us, it was an attractive feature—at least in part—for many funders in both the public and private sectors.
Stark evidence of this came in a conversation I had with a health insurance executive about the possibility of starting an academic detailing program for primary care providers. “Frankly,” he told me, “we’re not focusing much attention any more on drugs in primary care. Many of them are pretty cheap now. All our energies are going to the expensive specialty drugs.”
I guess if the bottom line is all that matters, any M.B.A. would come to the same conclusion about academic detailing in primary care. However, if the mission of academic detailing is to help health care professionals take better care of their patients, then the goal of quality improvement serves as reason enough in itself. Several state government agencies get this (PA, SC, VT, MA, etc.), as do some Canadian provinces and other nations. But in many private U.S. health care systems, the bottom line still rules.
Luckily, things are changing yet again to make academic detailing potentially attractive even for those whose focus is mostly on finances. Growing impact of the HEDIS measures (Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set) and the Medicare “stars” rating system means that millions of dollars of reimbursement now depend on how a health care system performs on several quality measures. Many of these measures depend upon optimal medication use for conditions such as diabetes, hypertension osteoporosis, and elevated cholesterol; others assess cancer screening and other non-medication-related priorities that can be addressed by academic detailers.
So for those of us who always felt that academic detailing is about optimizing patient care, that goal remains as important as ever. And for those who are concerned with how academic detailing can affect a health care system’s bottom line, even though Pharmageddon temporarily took the edge off some of those concerns in primary care, the renewed focus on outcomes and quality measures, many of which are so drug-dependent, means that this reason to improve prescribing is also now back on the table.
About the Author: Dr. Jerry Avorn is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics. A general internist and geriatrician, he pioneered the concept of academic detailing and is recognized internationally as a leading expert on this topic and on optimal medication use, particularly in the elderly. Dr. Avorn has published over 250 papers on these topics over the past three decades.
This article originally appeared in NaRCAD’s Winter 2014/15 Newsletter.
Highlighting Best Practices
We highlight what's working in clinical education through interviews, features, event recaps, and guest blogs, offering clinical educators the chance to share successes and lessons learned from around the country & beyond.