PSPs at eyeforpharma 2020: COVID-19 Shows How Patient Support Innovation is Overdue

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how pharma needs to strengthen direct-to-patient support channels, while industry leaders at eyeforpharma spoke about how digital innovation will define how they do so

Dan Brown Apr 28, 2020

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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For years, pharma has touted patient support programs (PSPs) as the go-to destination for guidance on the safe and responsible use of their medications. But as the COVID-19 pandemic is unsettling many people living with a disease or receiving treatment, it appears that pharma is struggling to provide meaningful support to their patients.

COVID-19 & Pharma PSPs: Is Patient Support Failing when Needed the Most?

The coronavirus pandemic has made the importance of patient support more obvious than ever. Patients are receiving information (and misinformation) from all directions, but important questions remain unanswered. Many are worried that the disease they are living with and/or the treatment they are receiving is putting their lives at risk because of the virus.

Along with the economic impact of COVID-19, which is raising questions of affordability in particular for expensive medications, there is a clear risk of issues such as increased medication nonadherence. This arguably poses a greater risk of serious complications and hospitalization, potentially even more severe than COVID-19 itself. Patients consult a variety of support channels to navigate through this crisis.

While patient organizations and health bodies provide broad information on COVID-19, treatment-specific advice from pharma remains scarce.

According to people we spoke to who live with multiple sclerosis, organizations such as the MS Society and MS Foundation are doing a remarkable job in providing support. Many also cited certain mainstream media outlets, social media groups, health bodies (such as the CDC and WHO), and expert health bloggers as providing valuable, timely, and trustworthy support and information. The pharmaceutical industry, however, was noticeably absent.

“Pharmaceutical companies generally aren’t the first places we turn,” replied a couple, both of whom live with MS. Another, taking Ocrevus and who considers himself at ‘high risk’ of COVID-19 in several ways, was not aware of any direct lines of communication between pharma and patients.

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Not one respondent mentioned pharma as a source of support; it was only when explicitly asked about the industry that the previously mentioned couple said: “We do know that Genentech has done some communication and work to help people through coping with this pandemic.”

For most, it seems as though the concept of pharma being a trusted, valuable, and proactive channel of support is as alien as it always has been, despite years of talk within the industry of ‘patient engagement’ and ‘patient-centricity’.

eyeforpharma 2020 Sentiment: Increasing Importance of Direct-to-Patient Channels

The need for pharma to improve direct-to-patient channels has driven much of the discussion around patient engagement in recent years. In normal times, these channels can provide ongoing support between appointments with healthcare professionals – the traditional middlemen between pharma and patients.

Amid a crisis in which both patients and pharma have lost most of their access to HCPs, these channels are becoming more crucial than ever.

Although PSPs were not central to much of the discussion at eyeforpharma, there were signs that the industry is maturing and evolving when it comes to direct-to-patient channels and the understanding of how such channels fit into patients’ daily lives. The role of digital solutions in patient support was a particularly insightful topic.

Greg Silvesti, Head of Digital Health and Innovation at AbbVie, said that pharma is past the “shiny object syndrome” regarding digital and is gradually getting to grips with using digital to solve identified patient needs, rather than just using digital for the sake of it.

“What we’re trying to do is build solutions that meet people where they are, where they can contextually engage with them at the right times”

– Greg Silvesti, Head of Digital Health & Innovation at AbbVie

Nathan Yorgey, Director of Digital Innovation at Pfizer, shares this sentiment. Additionally, he sees a paradigm shift happening at pharma when it comes to the approach for developing effective patient solutions. Instead of commissioning agency products or going with off-the-shelve solutions, he sees Pfizer moving more towards co-creating patient offerings together with a trusted network of small and large tech firms.

“In some cases, [tech firms’] core-based product out-of-the-box doesn’t meet our need – but then it’s that working together to deliver a product that ultimately drives the business value for us.”

– Nathan Yorgey, Director of Digital Innovation at Pfizer

While the tactics for successful execution may certainly differ from company to company, there seems to be one common theme: The future of patient support is digital, and success increasingly depends on getting technology right, be it internally or through partners.

Nathan Yorgey & Greg Silvesti talking at eyeforpharma 2020
Nathan Yorgey of Pfizer & Greg Silvesti of AbbVie talking at eyeforpharma 2020

Moving Forward: The New Default in Patient Support is Digital

COVID-19 has highlighted that today’s patient support programs (PSPs) are, in some ways, failing to deliver when patients need them most. One root cause lies in the fact that today’s PSPs are typically a market-specific setup of standard safety information, available through print materials, a website, and call center scripts. The largely static, rarely updated contents quickly lose relevance, and channels rely on the patient pull. Consequently, pharma often fails to establish itself as a destination for patients.

Done right, digital patient support can alleviate many of these problems, chiefly by establishing an app as a channel of ongoing relevance and by enabling up-to-dateness through global scalability. With an app that patients use several times per day, personalized, up-to-date content can be pushed to a patient’s smartphone when they actually matter. By conceiving these programs globally and establishing efficient processes for initial deployments and content updates, maintenance, and continuous relevance become economically viable.

There is no escaping the fact that digital must be the backbone of patient support moving forward, and judging from their statements at eyeforpharma, the experts at AbbVie and Pfizer are already embracing that learning. Our own experiences with industry partners Novartis and Merck are similar: Global scalability and acceptance by millions of users being are among the key reasons why they decided to use our MyTherapy platform for deploying their patient offerings.

Having released partner programs in 25+ countries, we have gained the user acceptance and regulatory know-how necessary for the scalability necessary. In our partnerships with pharma, we can continue to evolve to support emerging patient needs on a global scale. To learn how our MyTherapy platform can meet your patient support needs, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Read more about the future of patient support: Digital PSPs: The Death of the Nurse Line?