The recent shift toward consumerism and patient empowerment is driving companies to reevaluate the role and design of patient support programs. Historically, pharmaceutical manufacturers implemented support programs largely as a way to address patient non-adherence. These programs were often single-based solutions designed to meet mass market needs. Next-generation patient support programs will go beyond simple adherence to address holistic disease management through patient-centric service offerings.

These next-generation “beyond the pill” patient programs are still new, and many of the concepts have yet to be widely embraced. However, some pharmaceutical companies have already begun re-evaluating their current set of offerings with the goal of enhancing patient engagement, retaining brand loyalty, and thwarting the switch to biosimilars or other competitive branded products.

Determine which services patients really want

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every brand or therapeutic area when creating a patient support program, the key business challenge for all pharma companies is how to determine which services are most valued by patients, and uncover and prioritize gaps in current offerings to best focus resources and investments.

Click to Enlarge.Before even beginning to design a program, a large proportion of time and investment must go into understanding the patient journey and the associated needs at various stages along that journey. Understanding the patient journey involves gaining a very deep, comprehensive view of patients experiencing a specific disease, both from a current and a historic perspective. It begins with life before the diagnosis, at onset of symptoms, presentation to a health care provider (HCP), treatment selection, and disease progression. Out of this holistic view, one can map all of the points along the patient journey where a patient is most likely in need of support. These inflection points represent opportunities for a patient support program to drive engagement and utilization of specific services. During this phase, it is also important to understand the emotional experience at these various points in time, which can shed light on the intangible qualities and emotional support that patients are seeking.

The patient journey reveals opportunities to engage

Different diseases need support at different stages of the disease progression — some earlier, some later, and some throughout the entire journey. For example, with chronic, progressive conditions that are treated with expensive biologic therapies, such as multiple sclerosis, patients not only require assistance with access and financial support but also injection training, disease and symptom management, and emotional support. Thus, patient support programs can add value by ensuring patients obtain access to the therapy, correctly use their therapy, and continue to stay on therapy throughout all stages of their progression. For respiratory diseases such as asthma, and cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, access to treatments is usually not a challenge; instead, adherence is a key focus. In this case, strategies for supporting a healthier lifestyle and monitoring and improving adherence to medication are beneficial support offerings that can improve patient outcomes.

Measure success and satisfaction over time

Once a patient support program has been designed and implemented, evaluating the success of the program relies on a series of well-defined metrics that capture both patient and HCP-related outcomes. For instance, understanding patient awareness and level of engagement with the various services available, their satisfaction with each of them, and their preferences and priority of services can all be captured and tracked over time.

Some metrics can ultimately ladder up to understanding brand loyalty by understanding patients’ likelihood to engage with the program and their motivation to stay on their current medication. A similar set of metrics can apply for HCPs to help understand how they perceive the program, whether they differentiate it from other competitive programs, and if they are likely to recommend the support program to their patients. Some organizations are considering taking this a step further by gauging how well their patient support programs drive improved clinical outcomes, based on a composite of various clinical aspects of the disease.

With the rise of patient centricity, there is significant opportunity for pharma to elevate their value by taking a closer look at how they can offer value-added services through patient support programs. Although understanding what services are needed when designing a patient support program, and how to best prioritize resources and investments can be a challenging and complex initiative, a deep understanding of the patient journey and the associated needs along the way is crucial to success. A solid foundation has already been laid out through the recent efforts and learnings of several key patient-centric, innovation-driven pharmaceutical companies, which will hopefully pave the way for other organizations to be inspired and adopt similar initiatives.

About the author

Ashley Ocvirk is a Senior Analyst in the Healthcare division of SKIM where she has developed significant expertise in qualitative and quantitative market research, providing consultative and innovative solutions for pharmaceutical clients for their market potential and understanding, product development, and communications initiatives.