Six Steps to Driving Patient Support Program Enrollment


Although there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, the process is influenced by factors such as lifestyle stage, competitive outlook, and market constraints.

Gregg Fisher

Gregg Fisher

Global brand and commercial organizations (including pharmaceutical companies and their supplier partners) are making investments in building next-generation patient support programs (PSPs). These programs integrate modern digital, data, and behavior science techniques to differentiate brands in a competitive environment, while improving adherence and supporting patient outcomes. But, too often, these programs struggle to realize their promise because of underwhelming patient and health provider enrollment. Our pharma clients involved with innovation of patient support programs, routinely cite patient enrollment as a top unresolved challenge.

This enrollment challenge is especially difficult for patient support programs that aim to provide value beyond the medicine to support disease management or adherence, versus patient support programs that patients must participate in to access or use the product, such as co-pay assistance programs.

Potential solutions to the enrollment challenge are influenced by many factors, including therapeutic area, lifecycle stage, competitive outlook, country-specific market constraints, and corporate culture. While no silver bullet exists, experience has helped in defining the following six critical success factors for driving enrollment in PSPs.

1. PSPs must deliver compelling value and address a real unmet need

Healthcare providers (HCPs) only recommend PSPs if they see clear potential for it to make positive, tangible differences to the way they care for patients, and the way patients care for themselves. The same goes for patients. Unless PSPs help them improve the way they live with their condition, they are unlikely to enroll or stay engaged. Too often, assumptions are made about unmet need, and little regard is given to options currently available to address the issue.

Pharmaceutical PSP teams should consider two questions: “Is this a burning need that, if not addressed, the patient will have limited success with therapy?”, and “Is there any existing support that our PSP would be competing against?” Recognize that the competition to a pharma PSP program includes not only other drug companies, but also support provided by a growing number of third-party content and service providers. Examples of such third-party support outlets are niche digital health solutions and online disease social networks.

In-depth research will help one understand the scope and shape of the problem faced by prospective PSP users, be they the patient, caregiver, nurse provider, or consulting physician.

Action: Run co-planning sessions with patients and providers to prioritize pain points. Perform competitive analysis to understand the solutions landscape and identify potential partners.

Empathy, trust and nurse holding hands with patient for help, consulting support and healthcare advice. Kindness, counseling and medical therapy in nursing home for hope, consultation and psychology. Image Credit" Adobe Stock Images/C Davids/

2. Integrate PSP messaging into brand strategy, value messaging, and communications

Pharma teams put significant effort and spend into brand strategy, value message development, marketing, and communications focused on the product launch, but similar attention is not paid to PSP messaging. If PSPs aren’t prominently factored in as part of strategic launch planning, companies could be missing a golden opportunity. PSPs should be an integral part of the messaging architecture and align with value messages.

PSPs should be prominent in the creative assets and communications materials at launch—or shortly thereafter—to help HCPs and patients appreciate the benefits of a new therapy and the accompanying support being offered.

Action: Create a comprehensive PSP enrollment strategy prior to launch.

3. Target the right audiences with a combination of face-to-face and non-personal

Understand who, besides the physician, has responsibility for supporting patients. Promotion of any PSP should factor in communication with the wider clinical team, including nurses, nurse educators, and pharmacists.

Sales reps often don’t have the time to integrate PSP messaging into a sales call. Therefore, consider having small teams of virtual reps whose sole focus is reaching out to the wider clinic to talk about patient support. Focusing on the staff that directly engage with patients is important and can be done affordably. Depending on the number of clinics and the therapy area, as little as one person per market can be sufficient and will make a big difference to patient enrollment.

While face-to-face engagement is the anchor of successful enrollment, do not assume that conversations alone will draw patients into your PSP. Ensureinfluential members of care teams have the right materials and opportunities to actively engage the patient with your program.To raise and maintain awareness of PSPs, consider a mix of peer-to-peer educational events, key opinion leader (KOL) speakers, testimonials, webinars, and rep-generated emails. Finally, do not assume a digital-only approach is a silver bullet, as digital channels may struggle to drive enrollment unless they form a part of a more integrated channel mix.

Action: Create an enrollment targeting strategy. Create a multi-channel enrollment plan for your PSP.

4. Simple enrollment at the point of care (POC) creates sticky engagement

Enrolling patients at the POC makes practical sense. This is a time when clinical teams can give influential endorsement and spend time answering any questions. Make sure all areas of the PSP are well covered, but not too onerously described, since there is a chance that patients can forget part of what is discussed in a clinic. Providing scripted guidance, information leaflets,brochures, and support materials that allow care teams to readily share the benefits of the PSPs helps secure initial patient enrollment and longer-term engagement.Reinforcing the “what’s in it for me?” in follow-up materials and ongoing care team discussions keeps patients engaged.

To make the process of onboarding more seamless and effective, encourage the nurse to initiate the sign up at the clinic. Then, create a link from the clinic to enable at home sign-ups. For example, QR codes on support materials or sample products allow people to connect directly to information on their phone and quickly fill in any required forms. Also, trigger email reminders to extend engagement beyond the clinic. Reminders should provide reassurance and simplify the sign-up process. Making the process as simple as booking a table at a restaurant or buying goods online can be the difference between patients signing up or not.

Action: Map enrollment flows and patient experience.

5.Co-create and partner with patient influencers and advocacy groups

Many patients look to national and international patient advocacy groups for information and guidance on managing their disease/condition. These groups have access to very specific, and sometimes niche populations. They understand the lived experiences of these populations. Genuine and compelling value can be revealed through direct engagement withpatient organizations, either as part of the development of a PSP or through the co-creation of one. Shared ownership of PSPs can solve enrollment issues, as the endorsements of patient advocacy groups create awareness and credibility with patient groups. If you are looking to run a PSP in a particularly rare or difficult-to-reach population, consider running webinars and/or providingsimple brochures or tools to the relevant patient organizations. Similarly, patient online influencers can play an important role in creating patient awareness of PSPs.

Action: Explore patient advocacy and influencer partnerships.

6. Monitoring helps drive the evolution of PSPs

To demonstrate that your PSP is delivering value, whether to support resource investment or to showcase your PSP to external customers, you will need to build in processes that allow you to assess and measure the success of the program rigorously and continuously. Such monitoring helps to support decisions concerning the PSP by providing insight into how many people were made aware of the program, how many were trained on it, how many received materials, and what proportion of patients were offered the program and consequently signed up. It also lets you see the percentage of patients that may have fallen out, and then explore ways to recapture the attention of these audiences.

In some instances, especially if you have little experience running PSPs, it might help to run a pilot program to identify unforeseen blockers, determine enrollment drivers, understand how scaling works, and clarify operational efficiencies.

Action: Develop a measurement plan for each PSP.

Finally, a bonus step for PSP change agents and innovators at pharmaceutical companies: Don’t forget the importance of ongoing education in developing more innovative and impactful PSPs. Frequently, brand teams view PSPs as a “tactic” or a “marketing expense” rather than as a “product” or an “investment” requiring careful planning, promotion, and maintenance. When the organization adopts this limited view of PSPs, it often shows up in the limited enrollment and usage the program generates.

The factors articulated in this article can help you avoid this fate and deliver a program that brings real, differentiated value to patients and providers, which can be measured in healthy enrollment.

About the Author

Gregg Fisher is managing partner of The Stem, a global networked consultancy specializing in customer engagement and digital transformation in the life sciences sector.

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