Since March, when the majority of the US was placed on lockdown and began limiting in-person interactions, the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry has learned much about prioritizing patients and healthcare providers (HCPs). Meeting these populations’ needs, especially in times of crisis, can significantly impact their lives, building brand loyalty long after the crisis has ended. Covid-19 served as a catalyst to accelerate the technological change and adoption that was already happening, as everyday routines were altered indefinitely.
First amplified by the need to overcome the unique challenges of remote working environments, tech-enabled solutions facilitate meaningful human contact and reduce time-intensive administrative tasks so HCPs can focus on the actions that will most improve patient lives. For pharmaceutical manufacturers and life sciences companies, striking the balance between technologically enhanced service for patients/HCPs and minimizing the impact on the bottom line, both now and in the future, is top of mind.
Telehealth: Evolving patient, payer, and HCP preferences
At the start of the pandemic, telehealth services exploded, with claim lines increasing more than 3,000% nationally from July 2019 to July 2020, according to data from FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker. As stay-at-home restrictions loosened, utilization decreased, but telehealth options remain attractive to patients and HCPs. Telehealth significantly decreased no-shows, eliminating the barrier to access of transportation for many and provided a glimpse into patient home life that HCPs hadn’t had access to since the days of physician house calls. Patients with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems that make them particularly susceptible to Covid-19 continue to use telehealth to interact with their doctors.
However, major insurance payers are rolling back the terms of telehealth coverage they launched this spring. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, HCPs face challenges in managing the wide variety of rules by payers, which have varying deadlines for reimbursement changes. This may change again though, with some predicting an uptick in usage as Covid-19 cases resurge in winter months. Even after the pandemic, consumer acceptance and demand for digital healthcare is likely to drive changes across the industry.
Similarly, certain HCPs will lean more heavily on telehealth than others post-pandemic. Pharmaceutical companies will need to make long-term investments in tech solutions to continue to serve patients and HCPs virtually. Offices that elect to have at least some of their staff work remotely will need access to solutions that don’t require in-office fax machines or non-cloud-based electronic medical records (EMRs).
Unique challenges for field teams
In addition to adopting telehealth as a result of reduced in-person contact, HCPs are limiting and may continue to limit in-person visitors who are not patients. This means, in addition to a patient’s family or support system no longer being able to accompany them to appointments, pharmaceutical manufacturer field teams are also no longer able to enter healthcare offices.
Your patient solutions provider should be able to support you in the new, virtual normal by providing virtual education materials and access to resources and tools available online. By looking at their field team roles through a virtual lens, manufacturers can support them with more tools and ways to address workflow challenges. Leveraging the right suite of tools, field teams can continue to provide value for your brand, including coordinating product distribution, streamlining the missing-information process, providing real-time alerts and guidance for prior authorization requirements, decisions and follow ups, as well as guiding the patient journey.
PAP and patient financial needs
In addition to the pandemic’s societal and industry impact, it has had a significant impact on the economy, with many patients experiencing lapses in insurance due to furlough or job loss. Therefore, more patients qualify for patient assistance programs (PAPs), which can strain a manufacturer’s ability to keep up with the need. A knee-jerk reaction some manufacturers may have is to narrow the number of patients who are eligible for free drug programs. However, turning away patients in-need could hurt your brand’s reputation.
To accommodate an increase in PAP-eligible patients, support programs should leverage more tech-enabled solutions to balance the necessity of hiring additional of full-time employees. These solutions automate processes to eliminate back-and-forth phone calls, allowing technology to drive processes and people to focus on the tasks that drive the most value for patients.
Moreover, life sciences organizations need to design PAPs that deliver exceptional experiences at every touchpoint, whether interacting with the program for the first time or completing reverification. Product, patient, provider and payer profiles should all be taken into consideration when deciding how to integrate tech-enabled solutions into PAP design. For example, increasing patient and provider self-service and automated processes upfront can improve the patient solutions team’s efficiency.
However, life sciences and healthcare organizations need to take into account variables like the tech-savviness of their patient and provider populations, as well as the electronic capability of the product’s payer mix to determine whether a mostly talent-enabled PAP would deliver the best experiences for providers and patients.
Tech in the new normal: Driving cost savings and better outcomes
Though the healthcare industry has historically been slow to adopt new technologies, HCPs and manufacturers alike need to utilize technology to enable processes, drive cost savings, and deliver better outcomes for patients with more obstacles in place than ever before.
The healthcare technologies making the biggest impact on the patient and provider experience and elevating manufacturer brands are:
• Cloud-based tools– Solutions with limited connectivity, such as fax machines, and EMRs not connected to the cloud, have been especially limiting in the months since social distancing, remote work, and telehealth appointments became the norm. By leveraging secure, cloud-connected tools, prescribers and office staff can limit their time in the office while still providing timely services for their patients.
• HCP and patient engagement sites – These self-serve tools can provide critical education and training for HCPs and patients that meet them where they are, at their convenience. e-Support solutions, such as e-consent or e-enrollment, can be embedded in these websites for ease of use for both patients and HCPs.
• e-Support– Automated electronic solutions and technologies for submitting prior authorizations, enrolling patients into programs and checking patient benefits save the most time for HCPs and patients. When integrated into patient support program customer relationship management sysyems (CRMs), patient solutions and hub teams streamline their processes as well, resulting in improved speed to therapy and reduced program costs, as well as alleviated administrative burden.
• Virtual capabilities– Field sales and reimbursement office visits are no longer feasible. Providers and patients seek virtual support for their reimbursement and clinical programs via live chat, phone, or video. For programs offering nursing services, such as in-office or in-home injection training, pharmaceutical manufacturers should be able to offer these virtually through video conferencing.
• Reporting – Tech-enabled solutions can identify patient drop-off points and opportunities to streamline PA and appeals processes to get more patients on their prescribed therapies.
Many of these healthcare technologies have been around for some time, with mass adoption the only barrier to a transformed industry landscape. The changes Covid-19 has set in motion are unlikely to completely disappear, making a significant impact on how we conduct business in the industry, as well as in our personal lives. These long-standing technologies, now adopted en masse out of necessity, will make the difference between a program that meets patient and HCP expectations and programs unable to adapt to changing preferences.
Edward Hensley is chief commercial officer for AssistRx