With the rise of digital health and the inexorable fall in drug development ROI, there is no denying that the pharma industry is at a crossroads.
In recent years, firms have invested in Patient Support Programmes (PSPs) to demonstrate added-value and gather real-world evidence to help address payers’ increasing concerns over the high cost of new drugs. However, many in the business now understand they will need to take the plunge into the mostly unchartered territory of behavioural science if they want to truly influence patient outcomes.
Leading companies including Novartis, AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Takeda are aware they need to work out how to deliver patient support programmes which are highly personalised to individual patient needs, according to a recent survey we carried out with eyeforpharma.
But it won’t be without its difficulties. This route takes companies towards more holistic healthcare, focused not just on the pharmaceutical therapy but on the patient as a whole and their engagement with their condition - far out of the traditional comfort zone of many pharma companies.
This step into the unknown requires an uncomfortable shift in brands’ own behavioural habits by challenging a traditionally risk-averse sector to embrace an agile and entrepreneurial approach and to explore new business models.
One of the driving motivations for this shift is an understanding that pharma is not immune to the impact of the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Switched-on brand managers know their business is being eyed by hungry digital disruptors, and that doing nothing risks a slow-moving pharma industry getting overtaken by tech companies that are already making an aggressive land-grab onto its traditional territory.
Our survey of 20 top global pharma insiders uncovered widespread concerns about the effectiveness of traditional patient support programs (PSPs) currently used by the industry. Typically involving nurse-led call centres, using first-generation tech like texts, alerts and emails, delivered in a standardised way for patient populations, they often fail to deliver the improved patient outcomes, cost-effectiveness and scale that payers and regulators increasingly expect to see.
There is general agreement across the industry that the next generation of PSPs will need to be rooted in behavioural science and recognise that patient needs in relation to the management of their conditions will change over time.
However, it is clear there is no industry consensus on what this transformation will look like.
One thing that is certain is that technology and data will play a key role. Far from being a disruptive threat, everyday consumer technology such as smartphones now make it possible to capture data that allows us to understand patients’ behaviours and the factors affecting the management of their disease in everyday life.
This change in mindset to more holistic care around a condition needs to deliver value for all stakeholders with an interest in the patient’s health – from healthcare professionals to caregivers and family members – by providing them with relevant, timely and condition-specific information.
Our panel of senior pharma experts agreed that true personalisation is still in its infancy, but that by harnessing the full range of data inputs – from patient-reported surveys to passively-collected data through devices – next-gen programmes can move beyond the “crude segmentation and simplistic profiling of traditional programs” toward “true personalisation to the individual”.
For instance, if we know that a significant proportion of patients don’t even make it to the pharmacy to fulfil their first prescription, and then a further sizeable number don’t make it beyond their first course of treatment – what behavioural science based techniques can be used right from the start to ensure each person has the right information and motivation to stay the course?
By marrying technology and behavioural science, we can deliver truly personalised, intelligent PSPs that respond to individuals’ everyday routines and encourage adherence by appealing to their personal goals and drivers. For example, we have developed sophisticated new platforms that allow patients and their caregivers – clinicians, family, peers – to create plans for how they manage their treatment and condition based on shared information.
This shift is going to require a willingness by the industry to go beyond the brand and reorganise themselves around the needs of patients. A brand-based approach worked when the objective was narrowly focused only on supporting patient access to a drug and reimbursement. But, with most conditions treated by more than one medication, and patients increasingly having multiple conditions, single-brand solutions are just too limited.
The PSPs that lie ahead are likely to leverage pharma companies’ expertise in a specific condition yet be flexible enough to support a broad spectrum of illnesses, adding far greater value to patients, providers and payers.
Ultimately, such breadth of services will increasingly become a key differentiator as pharma companies transform from those that develop and market drugs to organisations focused on the broader goal of improving healthcare outcomes. When success is defined squarely around patient outcomes, services which are intuitive to the needs and goals of individuals receiving treatment will be central.
There is also a recognition of the need to get clinical buy-in to this new model. More research is needed to understand how pharma can work alongside clinicians and their healthcare provider organisations to discover the best way for this new breed of pharma company to be part of a holistic healthcare model.
Finally, the industry will need courage and ingenuity if it is to stay ahead and in tune with this shift. No-one expects it to suddenly adopt a Facebook-esque ‘move fast and break things’ approach. But a far more agile attitude will be needed as we enter unchartered waters, avoid the rocks, and harness this digital wave to reshape the industry together.
Jim O’Donoghue is head of S3 Connected Health, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. He has 30 years’ experience in designing and delivering innovative services and solutions across healthcare, consumer and communications sectors.
Over the past 15 years Jim and his team have designed digital patient support solutions for pharma and healthcare providers that are available across 40 countries, including the largest telehealth program in the UK, and the largest chronic disease management program in Europe.
Jim serves on the industry steering committee for the Applied Research Centre for Connected Health and served on the industry board for the UK “3 Million Lives” program.