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With the proliferation of specialty medications, pharmaceutical companies are rethinking their brand commercialization strategies and looking to incorporate patient service models and systems that better support individualized patient access interactions. This isn’t natural work for companies focused on inventing new drugs—but it’s now an essential part of bringing a brand to market.
What makes hub programs successful? Let’s assume that a specialty medication addresses an important market need and helps patients overcome their health problems. Unfortunately, for patients on the specialty medication journey, a prescription is not as simple as a piece of paper. Prescribing and approval processes drain time and resources for both providers and patients. By retaining partners to help design and manage hub programs to make their commercialization plans successful, pharma companies are increasingly bridging the gaps between their in-house patient access or support capabilities and the extreme level of individual attention required to get patients started on specialty therapy today.
In the most effective hub services programs, three core functional skill sets combine to achieve the ultimate goal of helping patients get on prescriptions as quickly as possible: a team of empathetic people who genuinely want to help patients progress; processes that simplify rather than complicate things for providers and patients; and purpose-built technology that adds speed, accuracy and enhanced functionality to the processes and is invisible to patients and providers.
When US-based healthcare providers were asked in a recent Bain and Co. survey (“What are the top improvements pharma companies need to make in order to make your interactions with them more valuable?”),1 the first response, from 53% of respondents, was to “Provide more targeted patient support programs” and the second-most popular response was to “Provide a single source of content.” This is what hubs do for the most difficult segment of the pharmaceutical industry—specialty medications.
The human connection is imperative in establishing and maintaining positive relationships between the brand, the patient and the provider. There’s an additional level of complexity to staffing hub services teams because the skills needed to succeed go far beyond what’s traditionally sought in call center or phone support roles. These team members will be trained as patient journey experts. They’re expected to demonstrate a nuanced level of creative problem-solving and advanced communication skills, and to operate in an environment where quality and volume of work is closely tracked and continually scored to ensure high performance.
From the moment a patient, caregiver or provider calls a case manager, their experience will be measured by whether they had a pleasant and informative experience. Successful hubs have training programs to ensure that their people develop enhanced listening skills to engage with each patient as an individual to drive high patient satisfaction.
Even with the right talent on board, efficient and proven processes are essential to help provide timely and accurate results for the core elements of each hub program, including patient program enrollments, benefits verifications, and prior authorizations. From the perspective of a hub services provider, making sure that fully trained staff are supported by processes that are as seamless as possible is critical to creating a program that will yield success for pharma brands.
Designing successful processes begins with an understanding of the objectives of each manufacturer, the particulars of each drug, and what’s worked before and what has not in similar situations. It takes years of experience to design and build customized processes to drive the successful execution of each brand’s unique commercialization strategy. This experience is equally valuable for new launch drugs as it is for drugs which are being migrated from a prior hub service provider that did not deliver the expected results.
Processes must be succinct and fluid. Even if something imperfect happens along the way, the goal is still to yield a perfect outcome. This means addressing common pitfalls such as receiving incomplete data. How is the hub team trained to obtain that data in a timely manner so that rapid turnaround times can be achieved? Constantly adjusting and refining processes leads to increased client satisfaction.
High performing patient support teams rely on technology to implement brand-specific processes and business rules. Technology must be designed to provide speed, improve accuracy, eliminate rework and enable the centralization of data to provide insightful reporting.
Electronic services (or e-services) are one of the most important foundations of technology on which to create successful hub programs. Providing electronic benefit verifications and electronic prior authorizations through integrations with healthcare providers and insurance providers is the new frontier in these two core functions of any hub. Knowledgeable hub team members interacting with a prescriber can maximize the completeness of electronic prior authorizations by requesting supporting comments or attaching clinical documentation.
Furthermore, when all stakeholders have a single view of the patient, built from a centralized database, misalignment and duplication errors are avoided. An accurate real-time snapshot of each individual patient from a complete and error-free database serves as the foundation for meaningful, reliable reporting and enables a higher level of statistics and analytics. Building an integrated analytical view across hub and other patient support programs transforms the way brands use data and accelerates informed business decisions to drive outcomes that directly impact patients and providers.
Every manufacturer is proud of the drugs they bring to market and wants their patient support programs to actually be supportive. The types of assistance that will be needed along the complex specialty patient journey may be somewhat predictable, but service providers are not retained simply to complete a series of tasks. The best hub providers will continuously volunteer insights and suggestions to design, build, manage and improve patient support programs. They will work tirelessly to ensure that the right people using the right processes and technology make that happen. After all, to a patient, “support” means that a caring human being is helping them on the journey to get on and stay on their medications.
Gwyn Plaskon is SVP Professional Services at ConnectiveRx.