As light begins to shine at the end of the pandemic tunnel, drug manufacturers and healthcare systems are looking at the best ways to maintain the digital momentum spurred by the crisis to provide support to patients and overcome any barriers the transition to a post COVID-19 world may reveal.
One of the positives to emerge from the long and often stressful pandemic year is the nearly immediate acceleration across numerous industries of adopting digital tools for communicating or doing business. According to a McKinsey & Company report, the acceleration represents, on average, a seven-year gain for digital adoption.
The digital transformation in the healthcare industry stems, in part, from quarantines and social distancing restrictions that prevented face-to-face interactions between patients and physicians. At the same time, the pandemic’s economic disruption threw millions of people into the ranks of the unemployed. The loss of a job for most meant the loss of health insurance, creating a heightened demand for services that could help one access and afford critical medical care.
As economies open up and jobs begin to return, pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to work closely with patient support providers and field solutions teams to overcome the challenges COVID-19 imposed and identify which digital tools will help eliminate provider and patient access barriers—both now and in the future.
“Prior to the pandemic, we had been moving toward a greater adoption of digital and automation tools meant to reduce patient barriers and expedite access to therapy,” said Tommy Bramley, president of Lash Group, a part of AmerisourceBergen and a patient support services company that offers a suite of services that fall within three buckets: access, affordability and adherence. “When the pandemic hit, we accelerated our pace in order to meet urgent patient needs.”
Engaging Patients and Providers
COVID-19 created patient access and reimbursement challenges that are likely to be felt in a post-pandemic healthcare environment. Manufacturers will need partners who can help meet the growing demand for patient support and financial aid, and those who can connect with physician practices to provide the necessary education and support to help them navigate access and reimbursement barriers.
One important issue will be raising awareness of patient support programs among patients and providers. Prior to the pandemic, fewer than 20 percent of patients knew the services existed, while only 40 percent of healthcare providers were very aware of the services. The shift to fewer face-to-face interactions in doctors’ offices—where patients generally learn of these services—has created new challenges that threaten to exacerbate the issue.
“Support services can play a vital role in ensuring patients experience uninterrupted access to the medication they need, but patients can’t capitalize on the value of these services if they aren’t aware of them,” said Kristine Flemister, president of Xcenda, a part of AmerisourceBergen and a strategic global consultancy that helps pharmaceutical manufacturers commercialize innovative therapies.
To help address the awareness issue and provide much-needed support to physician practices navigating less staff availability and reimbursement challenges amid the pandemic, Xcenda’s innovative field solutions teams deployed new virtual engagement solutions, including virtual toolkits and digital provider resources, Flemister said.
Using the virtual platforms and resources, field specialists connected with physician practices to educate them about the use of support programs, as well as payor issues, prior authorization requirements, and claim submissions—ultimately, removing barriers to patient access. For example, after the Xcenda team discovered some providers, due to staff shortages, weren’t able to submit copay claims on time, they made the recommendation to the manufacturers that they extend submission deadlines. In another case, healthcare providers were having problems getting electronic signatures for patients to opt into assistance programs. The fix was easy, use a popular and readily available software program that collects signatures digitally.
“We were already offering remote options, so when the pandemic hit, we were able to quickly pivot to support virtual engagements and deliver meaningful interactions,” Flemister said. “We’re cognizant of how much physicians are using virtual services, like telehealth, throughout the day. We need to be flexible and meet providers where they are—whether that means phone calls, video conferencing or emails. Ultimately, we want to help physicians provide timely patient access while also minimizing virtual fatigue among physicians.”
In addition to physicians, patients quickly adapted to using technology, like online platforms, to engage with patient support providers. Lash Group—which offers a blend of high-tech, high touch solutions —recently enhanced a program through a collaboration with Medisafe with the goal of providing real-time, personalized interventions based on patient behavior to drive adherence. For example, if a patient misses a dose or has low engagement rates, the platform triggers a clinical intervention that typically requires an outbound call to the patient. That component, along with the other features, help create efficiencies for patient support program operators while better meeting the needs of patients, Bramley said.
“We’re always looking to identify ways to leverage digital solutions and technology to help patients start and stay on a prescribed therapy,” Bramley said. “Providing patient services that are nimble, flexible and fast will require a balance of using more digital and virtual tools that incorporates face-to-face interactions as life begins to open up.”
Going forward Lash Group and Xcenda, which work closely together and share data through a common platform, will continue to build and refine their digital platforms with the goal of integrating field services and patient support services for improved provider experience and support and enhanced patient access.
Particular areas of focus in overcoming post-pandemic barriers to care include: continuing to expand patient assistance programs to meet an expected surge of patients in need; educating patients about patient assistance programs outside the doctor’s office by helping manufacturers set up websites about their programs; offering personalized virtual assistance to patients such as virtual injection and administration training; maintaining therapy continuity by streamlining benefits verification.
Both Flemister and Bramley said the advances and capabilities developed during the pandemic will benefit patients, providers, and manufacturers long after the crisis has ended.
“It’s all about looking at the patient journey on a holistic level and maintaining that continuum of care,” Flemister said. “By addressing things like enrollment hurdles and points of patient contact, we can accelerate speed to therapy and get those products to patients when and where they need them.”
To learn more about how the Lash Group and Xcenda removes barriers to therapy click here.