As the cost of health services continues to rise, the population ages, and patients become savvier about their own treatment, the pharmaceutical industry has had to radically redefine the profile of their customers and how to serve them. This evolution requires each company to decide whether it is in the drug business or the disease management business, and customer service must be their new core competence.

The climate of constant change has challenged the pharmaceutical industry to continuously develop new strategies in order to remain competitive. Forces shaping the market are as varied as the global recession, patent expiration and increased competition from generics. Each of these unique pressures and challenges has moved the entire industry to constantly evolve its way of doing business.

Customer service is beginning to define how each company establishes its position in the future of healthcare. As the cost of health services continues to rise, the population ages, and patients become savvier about their own treatment, pharma has had to radically redefine the profile of their customers and how to serve them. The future of healthcare requires each company to decide whether it is in the drug business or the disease-management business.

In previous years, focusing marketing efforts primarily on physicians was a successful strategy. By targeting prescribers pharmaceutical companies could create a knowledge base around their drug and increase prescriptions among patients. As the industry has evolved, regulations have forced the focus to change from being product centric to being customer centric. In the previous incarnation of pharma marketing strategy, large marketing campaigns were an effective way to get patient and prescriber attention. While useful for drugs that address large patient populations, generalized campaigns don’t build the individualized loyalty that is critical to adherence and retention.

Creating a new marketing model required a new approach for the industry. The evolution has been driven by the desire to engage both prescribers and patients in a dialogue as opposed to the pharmaceutical companies merely dispensing information. Patients and HCPs are now both being pursued. And the new focus on making each interaction meaningful has created the boom of customer service in the industry.

Creative Patient Support

Patient populations and HCPs are looking for solutions, not just a cure for symptoms. The request is for overall lifestyle remedies that address the underlying causes of illness. In cases of chronic illness, patients may not look for a root cause, but instead search for a greater sphere of assistance. Companies are being forced to be creative in providing services far beyond simply providing the treatment.

Patients are savvier than ever and are requiring more from their pharmaceutical providers in order to remain loyal. Once a patient is acquired it is critical to keep that patient or risk losing the investment entirely. By differentiating themselves as customer centric, pharma companies are able to generate the positive atmosphere needed to grow these relationships. Thinking beyond the traditional large marketing campaigns has allowed pharma to address the needs of both patients and providers.

Pharmaceutical companies today are focusing on what they can give to the patient in the most innovative and engaging ways. The rise of patient-support programs has shown that a support system that incorporates telephone, online chat, smartphone apps, and other service offerings can be effective in engaging and retaining patients. By providing one-stop shopping for patients to find information about side effects and co-pay assistance, pharma is setting the stage for an easy patient experience. In addition, by understanding the true nature of regulations the pharma companies are taking more action in social media.

Web applications to track symptoms, patient forums, patient support programs and reimbursement programs are just some of the ways that pharma is looking to support the consumers. Creating communities for patients to share their experiences has also allowed the new focus on customers to build credibility outside of the carefully controlled previous marketing efforts. Allowing consumers to have their own dialogue, gives pharma companies the opportunity to build on their existing programs and truly meet the needs that patients are expressing as the most important to them.

Serving new patients also demonstrates how the customer-first mindset has infiltrated the industry. Chronic patients beginning new treatment regimens are now enrolled in support programs from day one that provide real-time access and services that they will need in their treatment journeys. This immediate response and understanding of what the patient will need, such as providing sharps disposal containers to patients on treatments requiring home injections, increases the ease of using the product and allows the patient a better experience. By adjusting the services offered to patients in different stages of their treatment, pharma companies are adding value to not only the patient experience, but also to the physicians who are prescribing the medications.

Customer Service As An Adherence Tool

The customer service mindset is all about understanding what the patient truly needs. Through programs such as reimbursement services, pharma companies have created a culture in which a patient can expect meaningful support for their disease state. And by focusing on each patient’s specific needs individually, pharma companies are able to provide individualized services that impact those needs. For example, more companies are moving from mass mailings with broad treatment overviews to specific adherence reminders for patients who have been on a drug and may be struggling with remembering to take their medication daily. This is the kind of small change that reaps large rewards for pharma and the consumer.

Pharma companies have embraced innovation and creativity in defining the role of customer service in adherence, resulting in advances in how patients and physicians find value working with them. Disease management has been a call-to-action allowing customer service to go beyond the traditional telephone operator on the end of the line answering a frequently asked question. Incorporating multiple channels of contact allows patients to be served in more meaningful ways than ever before.

Support For The Healthcare Provider

Physicians also want more from pharmaceutical companies. HCPs are increasingly tight for time and are now looking for solutions that provide information and support to help their patients achieve better outcomes. As HCP detailing by the field representative has decreased, the ability of a pharma company to serve the physicians they work with has diminished. The response has been to adjust to a model that goes beyond samples and CME to one where the HCP is interacting with the pharma company in a new and evolving relationship.

The rise of HCP customer service portals is a service model that is entirely driven by the consumer. By allowing HCPs access to everything from patient information, side effects, free sample requests and company representatives via chat or video, the HCP feels in control of the relationship and can interact with pharma companies and patients on their terms, thereby creating loyalty and providing the most meaningful interaction to their customers.

Edetailing is on the rise (as outlined in the August 2012 issue of PM360 Magazine) as a more meaningful way to engage with a physician and their in-office staff. The shift from traditional details that merely relay information to one that creates an interactive experience for the HCP is a growing trend that meets their needs. Allowing the sales force to order samples in real time, provide demonstrations through web interface with live representatives and immediately respond to any concerns the HCP has, increases the satisfaction of the office and drives down the amount of time a detail will take.

Evolving Customer Service Model

As the population continues to age and the instances of chronic disease continue to increase, the role of the pharma company as a disease manager will become enhanced. The juggernaut of customer service should push pharma into even more innovative areas, and as a result telehealth will establish itself as a critical part of the solution serving both patients and HCPs. By partnering with telehealth providers, drug makers can monitor individual patients and raise alerts that save lives. Looking forward, telehealth will become much more than just a service for a patient or a single provider. There are opportunities to encourage adherence and retention on drugs that are only beginning to be explored.

As the industry continues to evolve, the path of the customer centric mindset will continue to grow. With increased competition from generics and a narrowing pipeline of new drugs, the patients on current prescriptions will become even more valuable. Providing world-class service and assistance to both patients and providers allows pharma companies to hold back these challenges. They can continue to increase positive patient outcomes and physician prescription frequency. The customer service mindset may be new to pharma but it is a time-tested formula that will reap rewards for the companies and their consumers.

  • Erin Kalafski

    Erin Kalafski is Director of Client Services for Tunstall AMAC'€™s Life Science division and provides clients with the leadership and strategy needed to run successful client support programs.

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