Digital Patient Support: 14 Lessons Learned from Launching 72 Digital Patient Offerings

You want your digital patient offering to have traction like a startup app? Read our 3-minute summary on how to make patient apps stick with pharma's local affiliates and patients, alike

Dan is a journalism graduate from the UK. He aims to make the complex topic of digital healthcare accessible for both patients and experts, using simple and concise language.

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Sebastian is a founder and CEO of smartpatient, where he oversees strategic partnerships and the DTx pipeline.

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We’ve launched over 70 digital offerings in over 20 countries, partnering with the likes of Novartis and Merck to help patients around the world manage their treatment. With apps becoming the cornerstone of patient support provided by pharma, we are learning ever more about what steps need to be taken to help drive distribution, adoption, and patient engagement. Here are 14 lessons we’ve learned, broken down into three key categories.

Distribution & Adoption

Getting an offering out there and getting it into the hands of patients is not easy. Here are a few things we’ve learned that can help make the process smoother and drive distribution and adoption.

1. Minimize barriers to access

Many people want to try out offerings before taking the time to register for an app or even enroll in a PSP at all. Making this as simple as possible will help get more patients onboard. No matter how strong and useful your program is, this first step is crucial in maximizing adoption.

2. Distribute without middlemen if possible

The global team tells a market to tell its field staff to tell doctors to tell patients about a great digital offering. Is this the most efficient way? Why not simply include an onboarding QR code in the pack patients receive? The more direct the line of communication is, the less likely it becomes that information gets lost somewhere along the way.

3. Close the loop with HCPs

Endorsements from healthcare professionals are a major driver of adoption. Adding value for doctors by providing reports can greatly encourage them to recommend your product and further improve the standard of care for patients.

Can you benefit from what we’ve learned in launching digital PSPs around the world?

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4. Don’t make PSPs medical devices

Patient Support Programs (PSPs) in most cases do not need to be medical devices; nevertheless classifying them as such usually means that launches take longer and stricter promotional restrictions apply. Make sure to understand the regulatory boundaries and avoid giving yourself extra headaches.

Engagement & Retention

Patient engagement and retention are critical for any digital patient support program to be effective. Achieving high levels of engagement and retention is no mean feat.

5. Engagement starts with onboarding

First impressions matter. The trick to a strong onboarding process is to keep it short while, firstly, capturing information required for personalization and, secondly, facilitating (re-)activation at later points in time.

6. Think ‘intervention design’ not ‘content’

For content to be effective, pieces need to be derived from interventions that are designed to trigger intended patient behavior. This requires skills beyond those needed for typical content writing and necessitates the involvement of behavior change specialists.

7. Getting the patient voice right matters

When testing pharma’s ‘patient contents’ against versions rewritten by our editorial team, in-app clickthrough rates increased from around 28% to over 40%. From writing headlines to educational materials, getting the voice and tone right is key to engagement.

8. Deliver the right intervention at the right time

Education works best when patients are receptive, so educational contents perform best when they are delivered to patients based on individual triggers. Make sure you take advantage of the opportunity afforded by digital PSPs to push content at the right moment.

9. Think beyond one disease

To be of maximum benefit to users, an app must be able to handle all aspects of a patient’s treatment, including the management of comorbidities. This added value can help retain a lot of people living with more than one disease and increase the likelihood of them managing complicated medication regimens successfully.

Designing Programs with Global Reach

To get the most value from any digital patient support program, launching in many markets is a must. Designing global programs, though, requires an understanding and appreciation of individual market needs.

10. Global programs, local configurations

Only global programs generate synergies during the initial build and in later refinements. Configurability allows markets to pick the features they need. This balance between global and local helps you extract the maximum value from a PSP while satisfying individual markets’ requirements.

Can you benefit from what we’ve learned in launching digital PSPs around the world?

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11. Involve local markets early

While a global lead is important for overall scalability, it is vital to understand local differences early. Planning for them accordingly will boost the acceptance of any offering. Foisting a PSP upon a market without their involvement or understanding will likely result in it being dropped the next time the budgeting season rolls around.

12. Conduct global MLR review

Although local approvals are still required, performing a global Medical Legal Regulatory (MLR) review, and receiving pre-approval, typically accelerates every deployment and helps identify showstoppers early.

13. Design market pricing for adoption

To reach as many markets as possible and maximize patient adoption, pricing needs to be attractive and adapted for different sized markets.

14. Simple, template-based rollout

Local resources are particularly constrained pre-launch. Local deployments must follow a quick, efficient, and standardized process. Doing so helps ensure smooth rollouts and mitigates the risk of timely and costly delays.

Can you benefit from what we’ve learned?

There you have it. Each of these lessons we’ve learned might seem fairly obvious but having the infrastructure and resources in place to make sure we conform to them every time we roll out a digital patient support offering is vital. As we add to the 70+ programs we have launched so far, we will continue to learn lessons that help us provide our partners with class-leading solutions, excel in time to market, and, most importantly, help patients around the world manage their treatment as effectively as possible.

If you could benefit from our expertise in digital patient support, don’t hesitate to reach out.