A good number of patients (63%), especially those with chronic ailments would look for Patient Support Services, revealed a survey by Human Healthcare Systems, released on February 25, 2020. Alongside, drug companies are also, reportedly, investing billions of dollars in every year, for several types of patient support programs, according to the Fierce Pharma article of July 06, 2021, on this subject. It emphasized: ‘Pharma companies spend more than $5 billion on patient support programs every year.’
Thus, it will be interesting to explore – when patients are looking for Patient Support Services (PSPs) and pharma companies are also trying to deliver the same, what’s really happening on the ground? Today’s article will focus on this area to help pharma marketers to get a ringside view of this area, and take necessary action in this area to make this investment more productive.
The aim is to help create a cutting-edge marketing strategy, while delivering best patient value and outcomes in the new normal. Let me start by recapitulating what exactly is a PSP to ensure that we all are on the same page, during this discussion.
Patient Support Services (PSPs):
According to IQVIA, a key challenge in deliberating with PSPs is that they have broad definitions, and consequently, may often give rise to multiple interpretations, misunderstandings and even bias. Be that as it may, IQVIA defines PSP as ‘An umbrella term to describe initiatives led by pharmaceutical companies to improve access, usage, and adherence to prescription drugs. These programs can have a financial component, support clinical investments, focus purely on education, or a combination.’
As we also see around, such programs include – disease awareness campaigns, helping patients use their drugs at the right dose for the right duration for best outcomes, to help patients use their drugs with disease education, financial support and more.
Relevance of PSP in the new normal:
Although PSPs aren’t a new concept, studies unfold – value that PSPs deliver to the community is so significant that when created with a clear understanding of motivators and drivers of patient behavior, can fetch equally significant return on investments for the pharma players.
A recent IQVIA White Paper concludes by noting: ‘One of the major trends seen from the COVID-19 global pandemic, is an increase telehealth. As the point of enrolment into a patient support program goes digital, PSP programs need to adjust.’ This seismic shift in the way we seek and receive treatment will require companies to revisit and potentially update their actionable insight in this space, The paper further notes: ‘With an increase in digital enrolment there are now more opportunities to capture data points and utilize technology.’
Thus, I reckon, it will be worthwhile to fathom, when patients are looking for health care support services and pharma companies are also spending considerably towards the same, what exactly is happening on the ground.
Interestingly, according to the 2021 findings of Phreesia Life Sciences, which surveyed nearly 5,000 patients checking in for doctors’ appointments during the past February and March, found, ‘just 3% were using patient support programs (PSPs).’
Some key highlights of the survey findings:
The support programs in the above survey of Phreesia Life Sciences, broadly includes, services, such as, financial assistance, disease education and specifics about medicine – offered by pharma companies. Based on these, some of the key findings of the study were as follows:
- Just 3% of eligible patients are currently using support programs, and 8% have used them in their lifetimes.
- 59% of patients have little to no knowledge of patient support programs.
- 61% of patients feel that patient support programs of pharma companies would be “somewhat,” “a little,” or “not at all helpful” for them.
- Most patients who had used support programs, used them either at first diagnosis, or when starting medication.
- Only 10% of patients said they had learned about support programs online, but 44% said they’d like to learn about support programs online
Further, as one of the senior officials involved in this research, reportedly, said, ‘nine out of 10 qualified patients were not using the brand’s copay card—even though more than half (53%) said they would likely use one if they had it.’ Moreover, ‘two out of three patients reported it was the first time they were learning about it.’
Likely reasons for low usage of pharma’s PSPs:
Some of the most likely reasons for low usage of pharma’s PSPs were deliberated in another article of Fierce Pharma dated December 04, 2020. A domain expert commented there, ‘pharma companies simply have missed the mark in developing useful, durable tools for patients. Elaborating this point further, she said, ‘Focusing just on specific adherence tasks, like medication reminders, isn’t providing enough value for patients over a long period of time.’
Another contributing factor could be, patients suffering from multiple diseases and those who are on multiple medications of different pharma companies, are unlikely to download four different apps to track each one.
One more reason could well depend on patients’ generally preferred sources to avail such services, which may not necessarily be pharma companies.
Patients generally preferred sources for patient services:
This point was discussed in the Accenture study – ‘Uniting pharma companies and patient organizations,’ published on August 07, 2019. This survey was done on 4000 patients and some broad findings of this study include the following:
- Patients generally prefer services from patient organizations over those from pharma companies.
- Patients feel that patient organizations have a better understanding of their emotional, financial, and other needs than many pharma companies.
- Patients also want pharma companies to coordinate with patient organizations to provide better care.
The survey also captured details of patient preferences regarding availing required services from patient organizations, rather than the drug companies, as below:
- Over 50% of patients have greater trust in and better experiences with patient organizations.
- 64% of patients are willing to share their health data with patient organizations to get better care.
- 52% of patients are willing to share their health data with patient organizations to get better care.
- 72% of surveyed patients call or talk to someone at patient organizations on the phone.
- 58% of patients attend in-person events hosted by patient organizations.
Are PSPs commercially useful to pharma companies?
The very fact that drug companies are currently spending over $5 Billion annually for PSPs, reflects their direct and indirect influence in pharma’s branding strategy and image building process. Otherwise, why would they spend so much? That said, the above survey details send a clear message to pharma marketers to maximize their marketing investments on PSPs, more than ever before. Consequently, the question arises, how to achieve that goal?
Maximize marketing investments on PSPs:
Echoing and paraphrasing some points from the above IQVIA White Paper, let me highlight, especially for the marketers, 3 clear steps for maximizing returns from pharma’s investments on PSPs, as follows:
A. Gain beforehand deeper insights of patients’ PSP need and expectations:
37% of patients surveyed said, pharma companies with actionable insights, will better understand their needs through collaboration with Patient Organizations (PO), leading to meaningful engagement in a more personalized way and more frequently.
B. Deliver patient expected value thorough close coordination with the POs:
This is because, 84% of patients think pharma companies – with closer coordination with, at least, a couple of influential patient groups or organizations (PO), will deliver greater value. This will also create a seamless and more cohesive patient experience, while filling gaps in the patient treatment process, to enhance end-to-end customer experience - in an unbiased way.
C. Creating and delivering new and seamless patient experiences:
The newness is important – not just to delight the patients, but also for strategic differentiation in this ball game. This is possible by working closely with Patient Support Groups (PSGs) as partners, seeking ways to rethink for creating and delivering a unique patient experience from patients’ perspective, and outcome first basis.
Use of data, analytics and insights will be essential while creating care experiences that will better meet the patients’ needs, and would also help measure the impact of PSPs on an ongoing basis.
PSGs are helping to transform health care also in India:
Some PSGs are helping to transform healthcare with prudent use of PSPs in India, as they raise awareness about diseases, help people recover psychologically, and more, have been captured by Indian media, as well. One such report titled, How patient support groups are revolutionizing health care’ says: ‘Because of these networks, patients and their families have become better organized, and are equipped to handle emergency situations and advocate for access to treatment.’
Echoing the ZS article, published on August 17, 2020, I too concur that COVID-19 has pushed the drug companies to define new ways to deliver care and reach patients. It is quite possible that patient organizations are moving faster in this direction than many pharma companies. Which is why, more patients, reportedly, prefer PSPs from patient organizations, over those from pharma companies.
Further, a course-correction in PSP, would also offer pharma marketers an additional opportunity. Because, PSPs have hidden potential to create an exceptional patient support base that marry brand’s key attributes with the new reality of patients, living with their conditions in the new normal.
Pharma companies will, therefore, need to move from typical reactive support programs – to delivering proactive patient experiences in a post-COVID-19 world, in partnership with PSGs. To ensure maximum number of patients use PSPs, it’s critical for pharma marketers to redefine – the “new normal” patient journey, and meet their current unmet needs in this space. That’s why, I reckon, to succeed in this ball game, pharma would need to effectively connect with patient organizations, more than ever before.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.