A Big Data approach to patient engagement and adherence

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - May/June 2015

Combining high-quality patient-support services with comprehensive and continually updated analytics results in better outcomes

Telerx’s Adaptive Command Center centralizes the services that can be offered to patients. Credit: Telerx

Health data from digital channels is exploding. Whether companies gain insights through analytics from pharmaceutical research, social media, wearable technologies, health records or other sources, pharma marketers and patient engagement managers can use that data to provide services more attuned to patient needs, address marketplace challenges, and, ultimately, gain greater success in providing products that improve outcomes.

Understanding the marketplace

Today’s patients are more involved in their healthcare than ever before due to the availability of information online, through social media and community groups. Patients also want to be treated as individuals. As pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers increasingly focus on patient outcomes and outcome-based results, the importance of analytics and data mining grows exponentially.

One of the most critical uses of big data by pharmaceutical companies and their data collection partners is leveraging the analytics to develop strategies to improve medication adherence rates, which, by one estimate, costs the US healthcare system approximately $290 billion annually. Medication nonadherence also results in loss of sales and loss of brand equity for pharmaceutical companies.

Experts have concluded that the six most common reasons for nonadherence are:

  • Knowledge — Patients often have inadequate knowledge, misunderstanding of, or negative perceptions of their disease, tests, risks and treatments necessary to treat or control their disease.
  • Coverage — Depending on the type of tests and disease, patients may be faced with inadequate reimbursements or coverage that deters them from obtaining the testing or medical equipment necessary to manage their ailments. In some cases, patients might not understand the basics of their healthcare plan.
  • Side Effects — Patients may be fearful of the side effects mentioned in the drug guides of their medication, which might deter them from obtaining the necessary tests or drugs.
  • Cost — As healthcare costs rise, patients may not fill their prescribed medications or they may avoid certain tests due to high co-pay rates or out-of-pocket payments.
  • Disease — Depending on the disease, severity of symptoms, level of disability due to the disease, rate of progression and availability of effective treatments, patients may weigh the risks and benefits of certain treatments before proceeding, even though their physician has prescribed specific therapies.
  • Social Support — The existence of a patient’s effective social support network, whether they are part of a culture or hold certain beliefs about their disease and treatment, has been shown to have a serious effect on their adherence to prescribed treatments and testing.

With the right partner and analytic technology solutions, pharmaceutical companies are able to track their own patient programs to drive behavioral changes to improve adherence rates and overall healthcare for their patient customers.

It’s for this reason that many companies and their partners develop customized programs through which they engage patients in multichannel conversations that not only improve their personal healthcare knowledge, but also tend to empower them, resulting in improved patient adherence to prescribed treatments or therapies.

Patient care programs enable pharmaceutical companies to engage in a variety of ways: track the interactions, track responses, and capture the data for analysis to help improve any processes or develop optimal communications. However, it’s the data that is collected through these interactions that enables pharmaceutical companies to really hone in on what needs to be done to overcome barriers to engagement and adherence.

The best patient-care programs start with knowledgeable medical liaisons who are not only well trained on the profile of a particular drug therapy, but are also patient-focused in their approach. For example, some therapies might involve interactions with the patient’s caregiver (parent, sibling), as well as the patient. Side effects of a therapy can be addressed with specific instructions, such as changing diet or addressing comorbidities. The communication preferences of patients—telephone, email, texting—should also be addressed.

The key next step in high-quality patient care is to document and track results, which is often the downfall of poorly administered programs. Data are collected and analyzed, and determinations can be made for what is working well and what is not. Another important element of patient care is documenting adverse events, which not only interfere with successful therapy, but have a regulatory requirement to be met.

These types of test-and-learn studies are likely to become even more important in the effort to raise adherence rates. Companies will need to evaluate a variety of channels, methods and circumstances to find out what works best and when. Tactics that may work well face-to-face or via a computer screen in a doctor’s office may not work as well for a patient who is reading a text or a social media post on their smartphone.

According to recent research by benchmarking firm, Best Practices, LLC, between 30—40% of pharmaceutical companies said that they expect their data capabilities to increase over the next two years. Additionally, 40% of the study participants said they have a centralized or dedicated big data group.

Case studies and other documentation show double-digit improvements in adherence rates with patients obtaining high-quality support. The ROI for well-run programs is 3:1 or higher.

Third-Party Partners in Tracking and Data Capture

Pharmaceutical companies understand the importance of data collection, but they know they can’t go it alone. Instead, companies know they need to invest in a partnership with experienced third-party patient engagement experts that know how to harness analytics through various

technologies and can adopt a more holistic approach to multichannel patient interactions. These companies are able to mine data from phone, email, chat, video, text and social media interactions to provide a 360-degree view of a patient and provide new insights into their behavior. The 360-degree view is a cornerstone of optimal analysis and the development of comprehensive patient engagement tactics.

Additionally, one of the many advantages of a patient engagement provider with analytics capabilities is their ability to deliver one of the most crucial aspects of big data—context. Without context, the data has no meaning. In order to really understand the mind of the patient, companies and their patient engagement partners must embrace all the ways that patients communicate with companies and with each other, and deliver the information back to them via their preferred channels.

The optimized patient experience lies in the following approach, which can be customized by a third-party expert:

  • Employing skilled health liaisons focused on delivering high-quality customized support
  • Implementing tools to profile and assess patients for potential barriers to adherence
  • Develop data-driven communication tactics
  • Utilize an integrated, multichannel technology platform to support optimal patient engagements
  • Provide detailed data and analytics reports to determine effectiveness of programs, and specific activities and trends.

The most successful partnerships come from a third-party partner that takes a command center approach to support and adherence with profile-centric programs that deliver real value. These customized programs are not preference-driven, but are also adaptive based on ongoing analysis of messaging efficacy. Experienced partners provide an overall program strategy creation, tactical analysis, reviews and recommendations throughout the whole program.

Patient engagement partners are able to provide assistance during the patient empowerment process and cutting-edge tools for transition to self-empowerment to increase adherence rates, such as:

  • Motivational interviews
  • Disease management
  • Patient counseling
  • Health coaching
  • Reminder messaging
  • Ongoing access to core resources and materials • Review and/or share • Program “alumni” online community • Blogs, community discussions and support, reinforcement of knowledge, etc. • Monthly email newsletter • Core highlights, updated resource listings, etc.

To combat the problem of “you don’t know what you don’t know,” companies’ patient-engagement centers provide the best data from their direct patient contacts through a number of channels and deliver it to their clients in almost real-time, whether daily, weekly or monthly—depending on what the client deems important. These partners also provide analysis of the data to help companies understand how best to implement any changes to their processes or adherence programs.

Ultimately, pharmaceutical companies hungry for key data and insights look to third-party providers to help them harmonize services; provide data reconciliation and follow up via electronic interfaces; and increase focus on service levels, trending and risk management activities.

The Future of Data-Driven Patient Care

As the entire healthcare system focuses on best practices and ways to deliver a more personalized experience for patients, companies recognize they must invest in technology, programs and experts to do so. By focusing all these investments on data mining, all stakeholders will have an opportunity to collaboratively improve patient engagement, medication adherence and overall health of the population. Using today’s insights, and using them correctly, is the key to predicting what might happen in the future, and what actions must be taken and what changes need to be made in order to affect those results.

Big data has transformed the way companies and providers operate, engage with and deliver expectations to their patients. As the field of big data continues to increase—and it will—companies and their data-analytics partners will continue to work hand-in-hand with technology to extract the usable from the static. Similarly, as drug treatments, disease management and patient behaviors continue to evolve—and they, too, will—successful companies will continue to adapt through the help of, not just big, but smart data.


As Sr. Director, Commercial Solutions Strategy at Telerx, Kim is responsible for new solution/product development for the healthcare marketplace. She specializes in research and analysis, brand development and strategy, marketing positioning and execution in accordance with corporate mission and strategy. Previous experience includes marketing, account management and product development at such companies as IMS Health, Harte-Hanks, MediMedia Health and AmeriHealth Mercy.


Founded in 1980 and headquartered in Horsham, PA, Telerx provides multichannel patient and customer services to Fortune 1000 companies in the life sciences and consumer packaged goods industries (more than 90% of its clients are FDA-regulated). In addition to its headquarters contact center, other centers are located in Pittston and Wilkes-Barre, PA.; El Paso, TX; Kings Mountain, NC; Morristown and Little Falls, NJ; Hyderabad, India; Sofia, Bulgaria; and Dalian, China. More than 35 million interactions per year occur via phone, email and social media platforms, in 100 countries and more than 30 languages.

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