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AMA, Acxiom develop MD lists

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Physicians are about as receptive to being contacted by direct marketers as people in a witness protection program are open to surprise visits from former colleagues. Acxiom Corp. and the American Medical Association have formed a new company that aims to change that.

HealthCarePro Connect, in which Acxiom and the AMA each have a 50% stake, will lease physicians' information to the direct marketers that target them, such as pharmaceutical companies and HMOs. The idea is that Acxiom will provide direct marketing, database and privacy know-how. The AMA will supply not only the information about its members, but also its brand name, which is unparalleled among physicians.

Central to the deal is the AMA's master database of 870,000 physicians, the most complete collection available and a Holy Grail for marketers. HealthCarePro Connect is contacting all the AMA's member physicians to make certain that their information is accurate, said Elizabeth Ruske, CEO of Chicago-based HealthCarePro Connect.

The updated information will allow for more personalized marketing, Ruske said. "What we're trying to do is enable companies to have better relationships with physicians," she said. "This data will help companies get to that one-on-one marketing relationship."

Certainly, nothing less than personalized information is needed to get the attention of physicians, an intensely private lot who generally have scant interest in receiving marketing pitches. One need only witness the travails of Medsite.com Inc. and MedCenterDirect Inc.-two doctor-dependent exchanges that recently postponed their initial public offerings-to understand the difficulty of HealthCarePro Connect's undertaking.

Contact preferences

HealthCarePro Connect is gambling that a function it is building into its database, called Contact Preference, will differentiate it from the heaps of physician databases already on the market. (Indeed, the AMA has licensed its database to direct marketing companies for some 50 years.)

Contact Preference is a nameplate being built into each physician's information. It will not only include general information (such as specialties), but also data that's much more specific, such as when and where physicians want to be contacted and with what information.

For example, a physician might indicate that he or she is only interested in receiving respiratory drug information, and that only via e-mail or through a visit from a pharmaceutical sales representative between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

While such specificity might seem elementary, in fact it is unique. HealthCarePro Connect is allowing all 870,000 physicians to access the Web-based database themselves and change information as often as they wish. Physicians can opt out of the database entirely at any time.

The idea is that by letting physicians tailor exactly how and when they want to get information-and making sure those that lease the database heed this information-physicians will be more open to being marketed to, Ruske said.

The database would be accessible to the sales reps of companies that lease it, not only in the office but also through hand-held devices while on the road, Ruske said. This application is especially useful, said Randy Notes, a manager with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, New York. "Clearly there is an efficiency to be gained on the sales end of pharmaceuticals," Notes said. The database's level of detail could also be helpful, he said. "You don't want to show up pitching heart medicine if the doctor is an obstetrician," he said.

The AMA's participation in HealthCarePro Connect is driven by its need to compete as a not-for-profit organization in a for-profit dominated world. It decided to partner with Acxiom rather than go it alone because of the direct marketing company's business acumen, said Bob Musacchio, the AMA's senior VP-publishing, business and membership. "We're good at publishing, creating standards and advocacy," Musacchio said. "But I would say business is not one of our strengths."

Whether HealthCarePro Connect succeeds depends on how well it guards the privacy of the physicians in its database. The company will watch for any renegade marketers, Ruske said. "Anyone who licenses the data will be held down to our privacy standards," she said. "If there is a maverick out there who doesn't follow the rules, I'll yank their lease."

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