A First-Class Patient Engagement Service: Do Strategic Partnerships Hold the Key?

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to engaging with patients. They all have their own unique engagement needs, depending on their age, their location, the nature of the illness or treatment and their own identity, attitudes and beliefs. Key to delivering “first-class” patient support is meeting the unique needs of all individual patients, regardless of their circumstances, to ensure they get the right level of support to have a positive impact on their health.

Delivering this first-class personalized patient engagement approach is complex and difficult enough in a large pharmaceutical market, such as the US or major European countries, even with the additional resources that are often available to a pharma company in such a territory. For smaller European markets, where patient populations can potentially be much lower and/or spread across large geographies; or in new territories where a company has never operated before, it can be even more challenging to plan and deliver an effective patient support programme that meets the needs of all local patients. Lack of affordable solutions, and limited available resources, combined with a lack of local knowledge in these markets is all-too-common — failure to overcome these issues can lead to a second-class service, or no service at all, for patients in these markets.

In this age of global product launches, how can pharma companies ensure they put all patients at the center of their engagement plans, no matter which country they live in? Do strategic partnerships hold the key to delivering best-in-class patient engagement support, even in new or smaller markets?

Limited resource risks a limited service

When launching a product globally, it is rarely the case that pharmaceutical companies have unlimited resources — whether financial, infrastructure or human — to focus every market equally, large or small, new or established. Particular countries necessarily have to be prioritized to maximize the effectiveness and success of a launch. This is particularly true in the present climate — disruption in launches of new pharmaceutical products due to COVID-19 are projected to have an aggregated negative impact of around $19 billion until 2025, with the first significant recovery not expected until 2026.1

To select priority territories, companies must focus on more than just market size or value. In a challenging launch climate, they must also consider whether or not the company has the expert teams and infrastructure already in place to effectively engage with patients in order to ensure the success of the launch in those markets.

No matter where they live, patients have their own unique and individual needs from their medication and from their treatment support. Whatever the treatment they are undergoing — from cancer treatment with frequent in-clinic appointments, to long-term prescriptions of self-administered medication to manage chronic conditions — they require focused guidance from professionals in their own language. This can optimize their experience and ensure they are adhering to their treatment regime, whatever it may be. Tailored and personal patient support is vital to patient perceptions of the success of their treatment, as shown by a 2013 study by van Houtem et al.2

All of this requires dedicated local support from pharmaceutical companies, as well as specialist expertise about the idiosyncrasies of the target market in question. These cannot be acquired by simply serving a market remotely, or by parachuting human and technical resource into the region with little notice.

As a consequence, it is often the case that smaller markets or new markets where a pharmaceutical company has no prior presence are often underserved. This risks patients in these countries not enjoying quite the same level of support as they would in a large, established market, such as the US, UK, or Germany for example.

Digitalization is vital

So, how can pharmaceutical companies overcome resource challenges in new and smaller territories to ensure they are providing the best possible service across all of their target markets?

Digitalization is an important first step in addressing the resource gap between different markets. The restrictions on face-to-face contact that appeared across the globe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of many digital tools and remote engagement channels. These have the potential to enhance the support offered by pharmaceutical companies to patients.

For patients in particular, there are smart devices that can support in adherence monitoring for people taking oral solid dose (OSD) medication. Attached to a pill sheet, these devices use patented technology to monitor missed doses, sending alerts to patients via a smartphone app. The data can also be transmitted to the patient’s healthcare providers (HCPs). Enriched with this real-time data, HCPs can more easily identify which patients require extra support and take action to help people with their treatment.

Such devices can be complemented by call center support, allowing pharmaceutical companies to reach out to patients on HCPs’ behalf to discuss any challenges they may be facing with their medication.

To further support HCPs in offering a positive patient experience, remote HCP engagement solutions, such as video conference calls with medical experts, online chat tools, and webinars and other digital content tools are being increasingly used by pharmaceutical companies. These can help HCPs receive the expert insight they need to make more informed decisions about their patients’ medication and healthcare needs.

The use of these tools can go a long way towards delivering a higher standard of patient support to smaller and new markets without having the dedicated expert teams on the ground. However, to operate at their best, they do still require specialist infrastructure and human resource. If they want to harness this new generation of technology, pharmaceutical companies need to address this challenge.

Harnessing the power of strategic partnerships

One way pharmaceutical companies can ensure they have the structures in place to harness digitalization and deliver high quality support services across all key markets is by entering into strategic partnerships with specialist providers.

There are third party specialists that have the technological systems in place, as well as teams of people who are experts both in the medical science and in their understanding of local markets. These can help deliver not just the technology, but the expert human support too. In doing so, they can empower pharmaceutical companies in providing the best possible support to patients on the channels that will benefit them the most.

Many of these specialists, in turn, are partnering with their own suppliers, enabling them to harness the latest technologies to deliver best-in-class engagement services to pharmaceutical companies. At Ashfield, for example, we partner with Popit, a novel monitoring technology expert. Popit enables us to provide our clients with the latest smart patient support technology, while we offer it access to high-quality call center support to complement its own offering. We work together not just to deliver best-in-class services, but to provide feedback to each other so we can continuously improve our offering to meet the needs of patients.

Such partnerships at all levels of the pharmaceutical ecosystem offer the potential to truly optimize the support we provide patients not just in larger, established territories, but in even the smallest or newest markets.

The future of patient support

Patient support services will continue to evolve over the next few years. We can expect more and more patients to demand new digital tools to support their patient journey. The performance of these tools in turn can be augmented and optimized with the right human support services. Strategic partnerships are key to delivering this patient-centric mix of digital and human support.

No company — wherever they sit in the pharmaceutical ecosystem — can provide a complete and comprehensive patient support service themselves across all of their target markets. Trying to build the needed infrastructure in every country takes too much time, money and manpower. The companies that will thrive in the future, will do so through identifying partners.

But the relationship has to be right from the beginning. The partners need to offer the right technology or services to fill the gap in your own offering. They need to offer the right medical expertise and local knowledge, and they need to have the right capacity and capability to help you serve your key markets. Asking the right questions of potential strategic partners, and doing so as early in the development process as possible, can help pharmaceutical companies identify and secure the support they need to provide first-class patient engagement in every market.

Ian Riches is Global Vice President Patient Solutions/Head of Patient Solutions Europe at Ashfield Engage.

References
1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1119123/launch-disruption-pharmaceutical-products-due-to-covid-19/

2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0738399113003467?via%3Dihub