We’re impatient to see more patient services

2022-02-08 |  Shrinivas Anikhindi

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In this instalment we’re digging into the world of patient services – looking at what they actually are, why they’re crucial to the future of our healthcare systems, and how you can take your first steps in building them for your patients.

From next month we’re going to be releasing these monthly editorials in both podcast and email form. For anyone keen to stay up to date with healthcare trends but without the time to sit down and read about them. So stay tuned!

Offering A Helping Hand

The last decade has signalled a rise in the importance of the relationship between pharma and patients. Not just because patients are more engaged with their healthcare, but because pharma are switching on to increased opportunities to support unmet patient needs.

The most exciting of these opportunities is in patient services. Once a broad term used to describe safety leaflets or disease education given to patients alongside their treatments, patient services have evolved to a point where pharma companies can deliver more personalised experiences, more opportunities to capture patient voices, and most importantly, better outcomes.

A win for patients, doctors and pharma

It’s widely acknowledged that there’s untapped value in the healthcare system, which could be accessed for patients to provide greater alignment between pharma and healthcare. This is an area we covered extensively in the documentary we released at the end of last year.

One of the most fertile areas of untapped value can be found in the gap between outpatient and inpatient. Once a patient leaves the doctor’s office with a treatment, there are a number of factors that will affect how well they progress. These can be anything from the patient’s adherence to a treatment regimen, to their mental health, or even to their socioeconomic background.

Patient services help by addressing the factors which impact medication adherence and quality of life in order to improve disease outlooks. These are vital steps for patients, physicians and pharma alike.

What’s on the menu?

Patient services are as varied as the diseases they treat, but common themes in gold standard services include:

  • A high-tech holistic approach to patient needs, addressing more than just symptoms and side effects.
  • Low-touch, high-frequency contact points to capture and support patient needs with minimal disruption to their lives.
  • Capturing data and generating evidence about outcomes which matter to patients, such as Quality of Life (QoL) in order to improve the care delivered.

Ultimately, however, the most important success factor for patient services is that they’re designed with the patient at the core. No one knows the unmet needs of a disease better than the patients themselves, so you must engage with them to understand where a service can deliver the most value.

If you want to understand more about these service offerings, take a look at this article about the 123s of Patient Support Programmes 

The risks of walking before you can run

Patient services are big projects, and the idea of going straight to a fully scaled personalised patient service will understandably be cause for hesitation. But it’s okay to start small. Pilots are a great way to stress test operations and design principles for your services, providing you remember to build them with scale in mind.

Why is scale so important? Because the value for patient services lies in providing services for patients which address needs that otherwise go unmet, and this requires investment. For impacts to be realised, big swings need to be taken. From there, value will follow in the form of patients’ clinical and satisfaction outcomes.

Caught Red-Handed: The Evidence Portfolio

We know that there’s only so long we can talk about the value and impact of patient services before your inner scientist perks up and asks for evidence. Lucky for us, there’s plenty of it, in myriad studies spanning a broad range of therapy areas.

Below are the outcomes from different studies assessing the impact of patient services on patient adherence to medication. This is a standard metric for the success of these services, as it’s comparable between therapy areas, and adherence will almost always be directly proportional to health outcomes. 

* The Impact of Patient Support Programs on Adherence to Disease-Modifying Therapies of Patients with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis in Germany: A Non-Interventional, Prospective Study

** Impact of the Adalimumab Patient Support Program's Care Coach Calls on Persistence and Adherence in Canada: An Observational Retrospective Cohort Study

The services in these examples are both Patient Support Programmes (PSPs) with nurses delivering regular coaching to patients to help them keep on top of managing their health – particularly those with diseases where patients would otherwise lose confidence and eventually suffer diminished health or quality of life as a result.

Other studies have looked at the mechanism of PSPs, specifically a style of delivering improved patient health behaviours called Motivational Interviewing (MI). In these studies, they looked at both the efficacy of this method, as well as the minimum time required for it to take effect.

* How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

** Motivational interviewing in medical care settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

In summary, there’s a mountain of evidence supporting that patient services work to improve health and quality of life outcomes. So the secret of their success lies in how well you can secure patients’ access and enrolment to them.

What Else We've Been Reading

Start at the beginning

We’ve previously discussed the transformation of the traditional pharma-patient relationship and, accordingly, the assumptions about that relationship we need to move past.

A major assumption is that there’s a set time period when pharma should look at value-adding propositions such as patient services. In the past, service offerings have been developed as a treatment begins to mature, or to support patients after they’ve been diagnosed – but there’s no reason why either of those things need to be true.

  • Build patient services into your launch strategy: Factoring patient service solutions into product strategy from the start. That way you can test the solution with a small responsive group of patients and validate its effectiveness before the product is even launched.

  • Explore the value of unbranded services in patient activation: As pharma moves towards rarer diseases, an increasingly common barrier can be found in helping patients to reach the diagnosis phase. Auto-immune diseases like lupus or IPF can express themselves as seemingly innocuous symptoms until it’s too late, meaning that unbranded programmes for these patient groups can help to raise awareness of them and support people to reach the diagnosis they need.

Healthy Consumers, or Consumers of Health?

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review sets out an important understanding in the journey to develop patient services – crucially noting that patients are consumers as well. 

They discuss pharma’s digital capabilities, and how as they increase, so do patients’ expectations of that relationship. As such, it’s important that service providers prioritise customer satisfaction and engagement. The full article is well worth a read, but one point really stood out for us:

  • The consumer experience is more than technology: You can have the best medical solution in the world, but if it isn’t easy or engaging to use, it won’t be worth anything. For patients of chronic disease, the disease already takes up a large share of their life, and they’re not looking to increase that share. Tools which help patients manage their disease must be easy to use, leaving them feeling unburdened and in control. Otherwise, they’re just another item to manage in an already stressful consumer experience.

If you have any feedback, or want to hear more about anything mentioned in this article, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!