Patient support programmes (PSPs) provide one of the biggest opportunities for pharma to put a patient-centric philosophy into practice

Patient support programmes (PSPs) provide one of the biggest opportunities for pharma to put a patient-centric philosophy into practice.

But not all PSPs are as well designed as the new medicines they are provided for – and many fall short of improving adherence and outcomes. These programmes are failing patients and are a wasted opportunity for pharma to add value. After all, PSPs are increasingly included in product evaluations and can make  a difference to a positive payer decision.

A common reason for poor performing PSPs is that they address a standard list of reasons for non-adherence e.g. forgetfulness and a fear of side effects. But, in reality, the underlying reasons for non-adherence are complex, multi-faceted and often unique to  each individual.

Another mistake is to design interventions purely to remind and educate patients. At best, education-based approaches only drive behaviour change in 5-20 percent of people1.

The benefits of health psychology

Health psychology is the study of how psychological and behavioural factors contribute to people’s physical health and illness. It enables us to:

  • Look beyond actions to understand feelings, motivations and fears at a deep, often unconscious, level
  • Help people understand their individual relationship with their condition
  • Empower patients to better self-manage emotionally and physically challenging aspects of self-care

You can embed behavioural change principles into all the stages of a PSP, from research into patient needs to creating materials and  providing nurse training to enhance the nurse/patient relationship.

Patient materials

When developing patient materials it is of course still critical to educate and inform about the patient’s disease and treatment. On top of this, content should include personalised messages aimed to address specific triggers of non-adherence (as identified in a thorough research phase).

Printed and digital materials can act as a self-help support system, providing patients with the ability to alter unhelpful thinking or behaviours. Aim to adapt an information-only approach to help patients develop the skills to better manage emotionally and physically. For example, diaries asking patients to think about:

  1. What might get in the way of taking your medicine  as prescribed?
  2. How can you try to avoid or overcome these challenges?
  3. Once you have tried a solution, how well did it work?

Nurse training

Nurse teams are often at the heart of a PSP, building strong and trusted relationships with patients. It’s essential that nurses are given comprehensive training in the same health psychology techniques employed in the patient materials and discussion guides.
An experienced health psychologist can deliver bespoke training including cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT), mindfulness, relaxation, motivational interviewing and positive coping skills.

Equipped in this way, nurses will have more empowering conversations with patients and will be able to positively respond to an individual’s fears, feelings or misconceptions.

A patient recently described the difference this makes, “Thank you so much for your calls. Through our conversations I now have a totally different relationship with insulin and now use it as a tool to make my life better instead of battling against it.”

1 Botelho RJ. Motivational Practice: Promoting Healthy Habits and Self-care of Chronic Diseases. Rochester, NY: MHH Publications; 2004.

Nagore Fernandez is head of patient solutions for Europe and Canada at Ashfield, part of UDG Healthcare plc. She can be contacted at: