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There is an increasing need for biopharma companies to demonstrate the value of their drugs through real world evidence, such as patient outcomes. There are many variables that affect outcomes, including patient engagement levels, and drug compliance and adherence. However, more than half of patients have little engagement with their health, and the degree to which they stick to their drug regime depends on how well they understand the disease, its severity, and how well they cope with the drug, its delivery, and its side effects. This creates a complex environment, and one way to try to unravel this complexity could be through patient support.

Technology is a great aid in providing patient support, but for many patients, face-to-face contact is still the best way to improve patient understanding, education and engagement. This can be provided using trained nurses supplied by a sponsoring biopharma company.

Supporting the patients

Technology, such as apps and wearables, can be great for tech-savvy patients of all ages. But not everyone warms to the digital approach, and some patients still prefer one-on-one contact, providing the human face of patient support. For some patients and carers, home visits from a nurse may be the only support and contact they can rely on.

Nurses can provide a broad spectrum of support:

  • Drug and disease training and education for patients, parents, carers and healthcare professionals.
  • Listening and support for patients and families coping with a diagnosis.
  • Demonstrations and help when starting a new treatment or switching to something different.
  • Troubleshooting and signposting to help from other healthcare professionals.
  • Understanding cultural preferences.
  • Supporting patients and families through welfare issues.
  • Monitoring disease control or progression.
  • Helping with drug ordering, delivery and storage.
  • Promoting independence and control.

Supporting other healthcare professionals

By providing patients with support and one-to-one contact, whether it’s face-to-face, through email and digital messaging, or on the phone, nurse-based support programs can handle routine questions, provide reassurance and improve patient empowerment and independence. This can help take the pressure off other healthcare professionals, freeing up time to deal with patients who need more specialist care.

The nurse's knowhow

Nurses are highly-trained professionals who may be generalists or disease specialists. While it would appear to be easier to use a healthcare assistant or trained call-handler, the nurse's knowledge and expertise provides healthcare professionals with partners who can offer reliable, flexible and trustworthy support that complements existing services.

Many nurses have experience of working across a range of clinical settings, from small GP practices to large and busy hospitals. As a result, they are used to working in teams and developing peer-to-peer relationships with colleagues, as well as supportive relationships with patients in hospitals, clinics and communities. Their communication skills help in breaking down the barriers between healthcare, patient and professional, so they can educate and support patients and their families. Not only can nurses help patients with their existing diagnoses, but they can also spot new signs and symptoms, and know when and where to refer for further treatment or investigation.

Getting the best out of nursing support

While externally-supplied nurses can function completely independently, the relationships between the nurses and the other healthcare professionals add an extra dimension. Making the nurses truly part of the hospital, clinic or practice team will make the most of their skills, and helps them to gain patient trust more quickly. It will also allow them to provide greater support to the in-house team.

Because patient support nurses are provided by external suppliers, introductions from the in-house team and the provision of informed consent are important.

Case study: MySupport program in multiple sclerosis

To gain the full benefits from disease-modifying therapy in multiple sclerosis, patients need to take their drugs at the right time in the right dose, and adhere to the treatment long term. To help patients with multiple sclerosis taking Rebif (subcutaneous interferon beta-1a), Merck created the MySupport program. Each patient is allocated a MySupport nurse, and has access to telephone, text, website and face-to-face support. After two years of support, significantly more of the patients enrolled in MySupport were still taking Rebif compared with those who received no additional support (75% compared with 62%).

Topics in this blog post: Healthcare, Patient-centered