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The biggest areas of adjustment in patient support brought on by changes in consumer and physician behavior
As life slowly moves back toward what we think of as normal, Covid-19 continues to test and transform our healthcare system. As a result, the patient support space is evolving in several important ways.
1. Patients are moving
Patients are slowly moving back—back into doctors’ offices, back into hospitals, and, therefore, back into the patient support hub and through their patient journeys again—enough so that we’re now cautiously applying a post-pandemic lens.
It is incredible to consider that nearly one billion diagnosis visits did not happen in 2020, equating to just 19% of expected visits for the year, and some specialties—including dermatology, urology, and neurology—struggled more than others to bounce back.1
Simply put, if patients don’t make it to the doctor’s office, they often don’t get diagnosed—and they can’t start on a course of treatment to help them get better. While telehealth doctor visits saw an uptick during the pandemic, the vast majority of patients, 70%, chose a nearby doctor for their virtual appointments, signaling they may at some point want to return to in-person care.
In fact, 50-60% of people who made virtual appointments with specialty providers (podiatrists; OB-GYNs; orthopedic surgeons; and ear, nose and throat specialists) booked a follow-up in-person appointment with the same practice.2 This points to telehealth continuing to be a complement for in-person care rather than an alternative.
2. Remote care breakthrough
As mentioned above, there’s no question that the pandemic has fueled a growing patient acceptance of and comfort with remote care. According to Accenture, while growth in digital health adoption had stalled pre-pandemic, healthcare consumers have shown an interest in virtual care, with 62% indicating they would choose virtual for health and wellness advisories and 57% open to remote monitoring of ongoing health issues through at-home devices.
In addition, as increasing numbers of healthcare consumers are open to receiving virtual healthcare services from their traditional providers (54%), they are also willing to receive virtual care from technology or social media companies such as Google and Microsoft (27%); retail brands such as Best Buy, Walmart, and Amazon (25%); and medical startups (21%).
Meanwhile, as the Delta variant stresses the country’s healthcare system, an uptick in the use of telehealth as a replacement for in-person care has been reflected not just nationally but in specific regions as they are impacted, with growth data corresponding to the timing of these regional virus flare-ups.
When it comes to paying healthcare provider (HCPs) for their teleheath services, payers are not yet in agreement about how to best go about it and providers are voicing their frustration. Some payers argue that HCPs should be compensated on par with their in-person fees, while others rationalize that because they can see more patients remotely and don’t have a full office staff to support, they should receive lower pay. Despite these growing pains, adoption continues to accelerate because all parties agree that telehealth is a powerful tool that ultimately benefits patients. Realizing its full potential means more than simply enabling remote clinical services. Telehealth has the power to reimagine how patients are understood, engaged and supported in their lifelong health and wellness journeys.
3. Site of care change
As a result of the pandemic and the associated isolation, patients are also moving to different sites of care. Pharmacists and pharmacies are now doing more than ever because people couldn’t get to the doctor’s office for more than a year. And patients have become used to this new route, seeing their pharmacy and pharmacists almost as surrogate doctors.
A recent MGMA Stat poll of healthcare leaders revealed that nearly half of doctors, 49%, are working more hours, on average, this year than in 2020.3 With doctors busier than ever as we move through Covid recovery, patients continue to rely on pharmacies. Additionally, as more state and federal laws allow for more healthcare services to be delivered by pharmacists, demand and willingness of the patient care can be met at the pharmacy counter.
When looking at the ability of patients to get tested and immunized against the virus, community pharmacists have proven their ability to reach patients who were unable to visit their physician’s office. They have played a critical role in helping to ensure patients understand the importance of therapy and potential side effects they may experience, and to help ensure the best possible outcomes are achieved.
Recent data confirms pharmacists’ increasing role as a crucial link in patient continuation of therapy. In a ConnectiveRx analysis of patient compliance with a medication from Brand X, there was a nearly 24% improvement in compliance among patients under medication therapy management (MTM), based on the proportion of days covered. In addition, MTM generated a 37% increase in refill persistency per patient.
4. Willingness to share
With an increased reliance on our devices, patients have become willing—and increasingly even expect—to access, share and receive personal health information through the internet, apps and bots, and the pandemic has only accelerated this shift. Whereas pre-pandemic, patients may have shown a hesitancy to enroll in services such as a copay cards, patient support (hub) services or patient portals, the combination of this consumerization and the impact of the pandemic has led a record number of patients to abandon their fear of sharing their personal health information online. From simple program enrollment to complex remote monitoring, patients continue to carry their consumer behavior into their healthcare journeys and are willing to share what it takes in order to get the care they need.
This growing willingness among patients to divulge personal information to HCPs, hospitals and apps ultimately can transform the patient experience and healthcare overall because the reports that are generated from this data have the potential to change the game.
5. Seeking share of voice
Pharma companies are continuing to look for new ways to meet HCPs because rep visits were nearly decimated during Covid and are only slowly creeping back. According to a recent survey of over 1,000 HCPs by the Physicians Desk Reference,4 more than half of respondents, 55%, are not permitting rep visits, either because of institutional policy or personal choice.
In-person detailing is now approximately only 52% of the norm/pre-pandemic levels. Reps were saturated in offices, and some offices did not allow reps to visit. While the pandemic meant no rep visits, offices are now slowly letting them back—but only at 52-60% capacity, higher for some specialists.
Another way to look at it is share of voice: Brands have lost 50% share of voice in offices, so pharma continues to buy into new share-of-voice tools as they seek novel ways to get their brand messaging across to providers and patients. These tools that help brands reach pharmacists and that help pharmacists reach and educate patients have never been more valuable.
One example is in electronic health record (EHR) messaging, which has evolved from simply an advertising channel into a critical touch point between both pharmaceutical companies and prescribers and prescribers and their patients, enabling deeper patient education and support. Pharma brands are increasing their budgets in this area going into 2022, while also increasingly spending on digital and virtual e-detailing and share-of-voice tools, including text and telehealth services. According to a recent ConnectiveRx survey5 of pharma manufacturers, respondents are most likely to report budget increases for digital marketing outreach (59%) and patient engagement (57%), followed closely by virtual e-detailing (52%) and prescriber engagement (48%).
Making the enrollment channel faster and easier for patients to access potentially life-saving therapies is just one of many successful strategies for increasing the likelihood that patients receive their first dose and remain on their course of treatment.
With continuing changes in patient and physician behavior, pharmaceutical companies will continue to adjust to these new realities and seek innovative partners to help.
About the Author
Chris Dowd is Senior Vice President, Market and Product Development at ConnectiveRx.
1. IQVIA, “Monitoring the Impact of COVID-19 on the Pharmaceutical Market, Week Ending May 28,” June 11, 2021
2. Zocdoc, “A Year in Hybrid Care” data analysis, June 9, 2021
3. MGMA Stat poll of 844 healthcare leaders, June 1, 2021
4. “COVID-19 Impact on Prescribing and Rx Affordability” Physician Desk Reference survey of 1,050 healthcare providers, October 2021
5. “Patient Communication & the COVID-19 Pandemic” CBI and Informa Engage online survey for ConnectiveRx, September 8-20, 2021