Doc and device

Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series by Paul Harney on how biopharma companies can improve patient outcomes.

Medications only add value for patients — and generate revenue — if patients actually fill their prescriptions and use the treatment as directed. Too often biopharma companies measure progress in prescriptions written rather than prescriptions filled, and that disconnect costs them a lot of money while leaving patients vulnerable to incomplete care.

According to a study conducted by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, nearly one-third of all patients fail to fill first-time prescriptions. That translates to a huge financial hit for biopharma companies and the healthcare industry at large. Medication non-adherence in the U.S. alone accounts for up to $290 billion in excess healthcare costs annually according to a 2013 report from CVS Caremark.But if we as an industry can get patients to improve their adherence to treatments, it will drive direct benefits to biopharma, physicians, patients and the overall healthcare community.

Fortunately, there are simple cost-effective strategies related to patient engagement that can directly improve adherence rates.

Patients need champions

I recently led a customer workshop on patient activation at the eyeforpharma conference in May where we discussed the benefits of patient support programs to ensure patients start their medications and actually stay on them.

It begins by thinking more collaboratively about how biopharma and physicians support the patient experience beyond just getting the prescription written. Healthcare decisions across the care continuum can positively and negatively impact whether a patient receives the best possible value from products. To minimize risks and maximize adherence, biopharma companies should think about how they can craft messages and support services to help patients overcome the barriers to good care.

That begins during the drug development process, where researchers need to factor in patient concerns about their illness and the use of new treatments into their decision making, and to identify endpoints that are relevant to that patient. Unfortunately, the highly controlled environment of clinical registration trials demands we remove many of these patient variables to be credible. So when do the variables get built back in on behalf of the patient? We must become the patient champion or better yet, pull patient advisors into clinical development planning. When we do, we begin to include endpoints such as how improvements in energy level allow diabetes patients to exercise more frequently, how injection training increases patient compliance, or how a call from a nurse in week two of therapy can get patients through a nausea side effect. Yes, this may increase complexity and investment but can pay dividends in acceptance of a drug by both patients and physicians.

Once that drug is approved, manufacturers need to develop omni-channel commercialization strategies that connect patients, physicians and their families with coordinated messages that are meaningful to the patient’s disease journey. That includes training field reps to engage in more collaborative dialogues with physicians and support staff about the obstacles these patients face in their care, and defining the benefit of the treatment in terms that are relevant to their quality of life. Educating and enabling providers to address transition of care obstacles with enhanced discharge planning or even post-discharge follow-up calls for patients suffering atrial fibrillation can improve the likelihood of a patient continuing an anti-coagulant outside the hospital. Providing education and support on patient obstacles can motivate all stakeholders along the continuum of care to champion the patient.

Finally, when the patient is prescribed that drug, they are often at their most vulnerable and thus in the greatest need of support. Biopharma companies can respond to this need by making sure they have access to support staff through certified nurse educator programs or nurse contact centers. These healthcare experts can act as personal champions for the patient, helping to identify any emotional, physical or financial barriers they face in filling their prescriptions and finding solutions to overcome them.

This particular touchpoint cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. Supporting newly prescribed patients requires tailored use of the tools and flexible partners who know how to execute efficiently and effectively. For some patients it might include giving them coupons and incentives to lower their cost of care, for others it will mean making sure they have transportation to a pharmacy or access to home delivery so they can receive their medications, and for others it will require training and/or the support of in-home visits from certified nurse educators who can help them gain confidence in using their medications. This is an especially valuable solution for patients using an injectable who are often nervous about their ability to use these medications correctly.

We have found in our own studies that patients who receive this added level of support show much higher rates of long-term adherence, which directly translates to increased revenue for the developers of these drugs.

The price of doing nothing

Let me make an important point here before going further: we all want to help patients get better care — that’s why we decided to work in this industry in the first place and that’s why we stay. If biopharma companies don’t market their products effectively and engage patients, they run the risk of not being able to reinvest the profits to discover new therapies and treatments.

Trends in the biopharma industry today show market growth for new products is relatively flat, but there is a clear opportunity to increase revenues through better patient engagement. To take advantage of this untapped area of the marketplace, they need to focus on the comprehensive needs of patients, and to reward reps based on prescriptions filled – not just written.

Patients are customers, and each time they don’t get the support they need in their care journey, biopharma companies run the risk of losing their business. Something as simple as answering a few questions, or offering a little extra support in the early days of a patient’s diagnosis can mean the difference between that patient staying on their medication and foregoing it all together.

We believe a more comprehensive approach to customer engagement with measurable outcomes linking patients and providers will reduce that leakage and drive better care delivery.