Patient services: a digital roadmap
Leveraging the full capabilities of digital will enable pharma to transform the patient experience
Too often patients’ experience from their diagnostic journey through to their ongoing or end of treatment is fraught with a lack of coordination, misaligned incentives, and gaps in patient care. Sub-optimal adherence to medications and poor health outcomes are the result.
The problem is fairly well understood, and the industry is listening more to patients’ needs and trying to respond in kind.
Pharma companies are committed to a patient-centred approach to meeting patients where they are in their health journey and to respond quickly to their medication support needs.
So if the problem and the solution are well understood, why are patients still frustrated by the difficulty in getting access to medication and support?
The answer is that the patient services pharma provides are still evolving as the industry learns. More and more companies are adding digital capabilities to make things easier for the patient and to proactively provide the support and services patients need, according to Jennifer Turcotte, North American Head of Pharma Strategy and Innovation, Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry, Salesforce.
Yet, the experience for most patients is still very disconnected, says Turcotte. “Getting financial support often isn’t linked to any follow-up services like medication education or adherence. Also, many patients don’t realize these programs exist and if they do, they are difficult to navigate.”
While there are many elements to execute on and orchestrate, best practices are emerging that will enable pharma to better address the operational and technical requirements required to deliver excellent digital support. Turcotte explores some of these below.
Partnering with patients and HCPs
First and most importantly, partner with the patient, advises Turcotte. “Consider the patient’s needs and listen to patients who are on your therapy or who have had challenges getting access to your therapy.
“Secondly partner with HCPs who are the first-line connection to the patient and who patients listen to for advice. They can make patients aware of the support that is offered and even help to get them enrolled.”
Focusing on the patient experience
It goes without saying that these solutions need to be convenient and easy to use and should consider the patient in the context of their whole care, she adds.
For example, an MS patient might need help getting to an injection training appointment, or another patient that might have been able to afford a therapy can no longer do so after they lose their job.
“In the context of supporting a patient with access, medication management or adherence to a therapy, these programs should consider an individual patients’ emotional, physical, and financial challenges at every turn. The experience should be connected and personalized. Make sure practical challenges like access and financial support are easy to use and not burdensome to the patient.”
The user experience should be easy and straightforward, and companies should provide different methods for onboarding and access to the services. Every patient has individual needs so offering choice is important, she says. “Expand enrolment to include a text option or use a QR code as well as use of online forms as one of multiple enrollment options.”
A single platform and digital tools should be employed such that they can connect what were previously disparate patient support offerings, she adds. Bundling financial support and other services into a more connected offering will naturally improve the patient experience, as well as providing more connected data to guide personalization of programs for individual patients. “This in turn, will make it easier for patient services liaisons to provide the support patients really need when they need it."
Tackling the awareness gap
The huge awareness gap surrounding patient support is well understood. Recent industry data has noted that nearly 59% of patients report having little to no knowledge of these programs at all.
Developing a comprehensive marketing plan to increase awareness of resources is critical, says Turcotte. “Most life science companies don’t connect their direct-to-patient marketing activities with their patient support programs, which is a big miss. There are ways to do this and still be compliant.”
There is a role here for commercial field teams in alerting HCPs to the existence and benefits of digital engagement tools and working to help them digitally enroll patients. Achieving this entails shifting reps’ hitherto heavy product focus and giving them the training and time needed to sell the story of the digital service and how it can improve the patient experience.
Nurturing peer-to-peer patient communities
Pharma also has a great opportunity to convene or at least better enable fruitful conversations and information exchange between patients, adds Turcotte. “Some of the best support you can provide a patient is connecting them with a community of other patients with the same disease.”
“Pharmaceutical companies should help ensure patients are aware an existing non-profit disease organizations or societies. Where this is lacking they might consider creating a community of patients so they can feel less alone as they manage their care journey.”
Developing a patient data strategy
Smarter use of patient data can have a transformative impact in improving digital patient services, says Turcotte. “Predictive insights on patients that might need more support or aggregated patient data can help identify areas for improvement of services.”
While there are real privacy issues to deal with regarding patient data like GDPR in the EU and now CCPA in California, it is still possible for pharmaceutical manufacturers to gather and use patient data to benefit a patient population.
It’s critical to properly gather and manage consent and to adhere to these regulations. Yet, aggregated and anonymized patient data can provide valuable insights. For example, information can guide design and development of services targeted to different demographics or at-risk patient groups in order to improve the efficacy of treatment.
For instance, one drug manufacturer found that many patients were forgetting to take their medicine at the required time. The manufacturer came up with a cloud-based mobile solution that would push messages directly to patients’ mobile phones reminding them to take their medication, thus improving adherence to drug protocols.
It's important also to use data to measure and evaluate the value of providing these services, and even predict what additional services might be needed for a particular target patient population, she says “Manufacturers should design advanced analytic techniques to not only identify patient cases that are most aligned to their patient services programs but also identify key patient journey intervention points.
“Each patient services program should have a definition of success that can be measured and manufacturers should regularly evaluate patient services programs and evolve them as needed.”
While pharma manufacturers may not be directly involved in patient care they have an opportunity to play a pivotal role in ensuring patients get access to therapy and adhere to therapy. And by working closely with physicians, they can also help ensure the prescription gets filled, and the patient actually starts on the therapy.
A single platform can give companies an ability to better know and deliver personalized support and experiences when and how they need them. Furthermore, companies should consider a global strategy with local capabilities and services. This can help reduce the total cost of ownership for an organization operating in multiple markets.
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