It cannot be overstated how stressful it is when a patient is first diagnosed with a disease. In that moment, physicians may be relaying information patients may not understand or are just too overwhelmed to process. Figuring out what lifestyle adjustments they must make, including changes to their diet or getting more exercise. Starting a new medication and dealing with the ramifications of that, such as getting help affording it, dealing with potential side effects, or just remembering to take it. But pharma companies can help patients prepare for what’s ahead through tools, tech, and other services that offer the information and support patients need to adjust to this change. To learn what is the best approach pharma marketers can take to help new patients, PM360 asked 10 experts:

  • What are the most important components of patient starter kits? What information, services, or areas do companies often fail to cover in these kits that need to be included? How can you better ensure the materials in the kits will resonate with patients and help provide them with the kind of understanding they will need to take and stay on their new therapy?
  • In general, what are the best strategies for helping to onboard new patients to new medications? Beyond starter kits, what other services, programs, tools, technology, or information should life sciences companies offer to patients at this time? What types of programs and services are typically the most effective?
  • How do you determine what types of materials or programs will work specifically for the patients with the disease you are trying to help?
  • How have advancements made in digital health, telemedicine, and other general digital engagement changed the approach to helping new patients get started on your brand?
  • Do you have any suggestions for how life sciences companies can improve their typical approach to introducing patients to their new medications? What innovative ideas or programs should companies consider in order to better meet the needs of today’s patients?

The opinions expressed by the authors in the Think Tank section are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of their affiliated companies or organizations. 

Stephen Fanuele

Patient starter kits are valuable educational materials with components such as treatment journals and doctor discussion guides along with core product benefits information and some type of administration or dosing guide to help patients acclimate to their new treatment behavior. All of these elements are helpful and informative, offering up a range of educational resources to support patients in the management of their new treatment.

The balance needed is identifying what information companies want to provide versus what information patients need. As marketers, we have to communicate the benefits of our brand or company and differentiate ourselves in crowded treatment categories. As patient marketers, we have a responsibility to understand what patients need at this transitional time and embrace both their clinical and emotional needs.

Offering Patients Empathy

Showing empathy through our content and our communications helps reassure patients that the company or manufacturer of their treatment is actually thinking of them as not just a patient, but as a person. For example, identifying patient advocates who have been on therapy and featuring their messages in these welcome kits with a pre-printed letter or note to say, “I’ve been where you are now, and you will get through this…” would do volumes to connect to a patient who is frantically seeking answers and reassurance.

Another way to demonstrate empathy is to offer customized kits based on other variables such as administration type. We should not be sending the same information to patients who take a treatment orally versus patients who take that same treatment via injection. Those are different patient experiences and certain aspects of these kits need to acknowledge those differences as well. Patients depend on these kits when a doctor is not available, so aim to provide more comprehensive support.

Nate Lucht

Start by thinking about your introduction not as a single event, but a series of engagements across multiple channels. Everyday consumers are accustomed to learning about new products and services in a variety of physical and digital channels, so be sure you invest both in tactile and technological ways to introduce your products to a new patient.

The patient-provider relationship remains one of the most powerful starting points for awareness and interest. Life sciences companies can improve their standing in these conversations by providing a range of both physical resources and education for providers. Providers want to make recommendations that provide lasting benefit. Education that focuses not just on conditions but also on the importance of adherence plans inspires productive conversations.

Both Physical and Digital Resources

Brand starter kits are also a strong tool, especially when customized not just for the patient’s interests but for the HCP’s office as well. Take-home resources and in-office physical displays can seamlessly tie your brand’s message with the provider’s message, strengthening associations and better establishing a link between the recommendation and the ongoing treatment.

When the patient leaves the HCP office, they will likely soon make a trip to the pharmacy. It’s important to meet them there with education that resonates with their current concerns and interest in a new medication.

Digital education should be tied to physical wellness visits as well. Solutions that provide opt-in messaging can connect timely brand messaging to visits at HCPs’ locations. Taking a multimedia approach that includes full-screen takeovers, short videos, links to patient portals, and smaller conventional ads will help your message be heard. Linking the physical and digital across a variety of touchpoints makes it easy for patients to appreciate how your medication will fit with their needs and individual experience.

Betty Rhiew

A patient starting a new medication has many needs, including learning about the product, managing side effects, navigating insurance, creating a care team, staying on therapy (for a chronic condition), and overall assurance that they made the “right” decision by choosing the product.

Beyond the starter kit, many life sciences companies offer numerous services and tools to support new patients, such as:

  • Patient Services Team, including coordination of product shipment, 24/7 live support, and copay assistance.
  • Nurse Educators, providing supplemental support for treatment initiation, titration, adherence counseling, and in-home training visits for injectable products.
  • Product websites, containing information about the product, doctor discussion guides, CRM opt-in, patient videos, and FAQs.
  • Events, live and virtual, can include a talk by an HCP speaker and a patient ambassador.
  • Educational brochures, given to the patient during the in-office visit.
  • Adherence programs across multiple channels such as apps (can be product-specific or part of a multi-medicine management app); SMS opt-in (texts set up in a cadence to provide support at critical stages); in-home tools and technology (programmed devices to alert the patient when it’s time to take their medication).

The effectiveness of the tactics depends on many factors, including the patient’s demographics, the disease being treated, and leveraging any attitudinal and behavioral segmentation research. In general, patients get a better experience when a combination of the right tactics are used. For example, when marketing a drug that affects digitally savvy Millennials, using newer approaches, such as a QR code that plays a video to introduce key information about the product, along with a text adherence program, will likely be more effective than mailing a brochure or setting up scheduled calls.

Serge Loncar

Pharma is doing the right thing by focusing on the patient journey and delivering services based on a consumer-centric approach. The most successful pharma organizations also ensure their patient approach is a collaboration between the marketer, the agency, and the legal, medical, and regulatory departments. Plus, every brand should have an “empowered” patient advocate to ensure the optimal balance between compliance requirements versus a good patient experience.

Programs That Go Beyond the Pill

Pharma can use technology, in conjunction with human interaction, to support patients after their diagnosis, which for many can be overwhelming. Therapy should not be just a pill. It should include a program that “wraps” around the medication therapy to help guide the patient along their personal journey. By providing such a program, pharma supports both the provider and the patient with a holistic approach to patient care that can lead to better outcomes and patient experience.

We recommend taking a holistic approach along the patient journey and having a suite of omnichannel technologies to deliver the right digital nudge at the right time that is contextually appropriate for patients and their support network. A customized approach is most impactful because patients appreciate receiving messages relevant to them and their therapy journey. Furthermore, when messages are uniquely combined with care coordination in which direct person-to-person communication occurs—it takes the experience to another level. It is most important to understand what is the best and easiest experience for the patient and to give them some level of control.

Jess Seilheimer

Providing the right recommendations for patients with special needs, whether that be a rare disease or those with nuanced accessibility requirements starts with the right research. In a world with no time or budget constraints, ethnographic research is one of the best approaches to understanding special needs.

Unlike traditional market research IDI (in-depth interviews fielded via video/phone), ethnography is a subset of human anthropology that involves trying to understand how people live their lives. Anthropological researchers visit patients in their homes to observe their behavior, on their terms.

While this observational method is time intensive, it surfaces nuanced context around how a customer would use a new product/program and the meaning that product might hold in their lives—which may be missed in a phone interview. Ethnography’s other main benefit is delivering a detailed and truthful representation of users’ behaviors and attitudes, uncovering and analyzing relevant attitudes and emotional states. The results help the strategist, UX, and design team truly understand the problem and design a more personalized solution that can scale to the entire patient population.

The Intersection of CX and Innovation

Cultural shifts across consumer, technology, and environmental areas inform new trends in innovation. Technological advancements are only proven successful when human behavior and adoption follow. The marketing world has shifted from building insular brand experiences to creating compelling customer experiences that are seamless, orchestrated, impactful, and satisfying.

Innovative ways to drive product adoption and usage (especially in today’s remote climate) can include allowing for enrollment via the EMR at time of diagnosis/discharge. Also, Alexa-powered AI personalized assistants can offer in-home remote check-ins via SMS to ensure personalized connection and adherence. This approach collects behavioral data (in aggregate) to help build future state look-a-like predictive models that will segment and accelerate patient enrollment and offer unique content and personalized engagement.

Sandra Graham-Mason

As a Patient Marketing Director, understanding the different aspect of the patient journey is a crucial part of my role. Only after deeply understanding the customer am I able to communicate with them in the most authentic way. When I set out to create a patient starter kit, I first determine where in the overall strategy it fits in and what unmet need I am solving for. The most important components include information that is relevant to the patient delivered in a way they want to consume information. Ultimately, we create a trusted resource from a trusted source.

The Limitations of Patient Starter Kits

Patient starter kits are a great resource, but sometimes they lack the basic information that patients are looking for such as disease education, basic treatment information, and patient support programs. We’ve also found that some physicians have restrictions against distributing starter kits to patients in their offices, so it’s important to use multiple channels to appropriately communicate the existence of the kits and provide alternative ways for patients to receive them.

Designing Kits that Resonate

To ensure kits are designed to fit patients’ needs, go directly to the source: The patients themselves. After one kit we made had been designed, we talked to patients and caregivers and discussed the components to ensure they resonated. The feedback was positive. The group was impressed we listened to their needs and followed through with their suggestions. We were especially happy to hear that everyone in the group said they would use the patient starter kit and wished they had access to it when they were first prescribed treatment.

Ross Quinn

Onboarding and choosing to continue treatment are ongoing decisions for patients. As such, we need to provide experiences that create an ongoing relationship between the patients and their treatment.

Nowadays patients are looking for support services that will match the ones they experience in their “consumer life.” These superior services in health need to stem from strong behavioral models at their core in order to diagnose behaviors, their associated influences, and how they interact over time to affect the patient experience. Those models are not “one size fits all”—they need to be carefully selected and expansive in their investigation, like the eight dimensions of wellness (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, vocational, financial, and environmental). Importantly, behavioral models should not live on their own—they need to be accompanied by learning and designing guidelines so that we can infuse motivation and empathy at each touchpoint and create a lasting brand impression. Ultimately, that is when value is created and the patient-brand relationship thrives.

How to Improve Your Approach to New Patient Starts

Always start from a place of empathy, consider the environment, and carefully select behavioral models that expand the exploration for patient areas of needs that are often beyond the transactional aspects of getting on the medication. Along with behavior models, interweave motivational interviewing and shared decision-making throughout the building of the patient experience.

From there, a strong data engine and predictive analytics help focus resources where they are best deployed and used. If we learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that we need to promptly respond to environmental changes, especially in the situation where a patient is faced with a new medication. Mastering the digital space is key to timely intervention, as long as it allows for human interaction, if desired.

Andrea Geppert

You have to understand the concerns of the patient community—there is no one size fits all strategy. Take a proactive review of a patient’s journey to diagnosis and treatment as well as their perceptions about therapy to help identify underlying concerns. Patients want specialized communication, so use that as a guiding principle as you structure your program—provide interactive resources such as doctor discussion guides and symptom trackers, both digitally and in print, to help allow patients to customize their questions and disease management.

Ask Patients What They Want

A massive market research project isn’t needed to do this. Through approved alternatives, you can email a survey or share it on social media, listen to insights from your specialty pharmacy partner(s), have a virtual or in-person patient advisory board, or ask for insights from patient advocacy groups. And then, keep asking for feedback—don’t make this a one-time exercise at launch.

You can also establish a patient ambassador group or advisory board, where patients engaged in their community can provide you incredibly detailed feedback to identify ways to enhance your onboarding program. The best strategies are those based on the needs of the patients—so make sure you are taking the time to listen and evolve your program.

David Ormesher

COVID-19 has been an accelerant of changes in the patient experience that have been underway for several years. Medicare claims for telemedicine jumped from 10,000 a week in March to well over a million a week in April. What is new, however, is how patients are reacting, revealing a new segmentation overlay of preferences, needs, and expectations.

Even with doctor’s offices reopening in most states, the typical physician’s day is still a patchwork of in-office exams and telehealth calls. Many patients have discovered the ease and convenience of telehealth and for them there is no going back.

Adjusting to New Drug Starts Virtually

The biggest short-term challenge for patients is the virtual start on a new drug. It might start with an in-office physician conversation, but COVID-19 related downsizing has reduced the number of office staff available for patient education, onboarding, or supporting the emotional transition to an infusion center.

Patients receiving new therapy onboarding via telehealth will expect digital patient education, information on services, and sample coupons. Short disease and MOA explainer videos, how-to videos, and links to online patient support groups will become essential elements for supporting the patient journey.

A growing number of startup health tech companies are introducing innovations such as remote monitoring and digital therapeutics to enhance physician and patient connections. Those in pharma who are collaborating with these companies are able to create new and more engaging patient experiences.

Rob Heller

When it comes to starter kits, it can be extremely difficult to control the patient experience. Companies are at the mercy of each clinic to properly store, provide, and introduce each kit, which is often the first thing companies fail to work into their design. Practices that don’t endorse the importance of kit components put the onus on the patient to explore and place value on all your expensive, regulatory-intensive efforts designed to help guide their journey.

We suggest adding a critical step to kit planning that educates HCP and staff on how to deliver each kit to ensure maximum adoption—consistently priming each patient to have an optimal experience when beginning their treatment. This may include a support rep working directly with staff to decide the best location to store them as well as when and how they’re provided. Honest, professional endorsement goes a long way with patients.

The Value of Apps

Beyond starter kits, we believe investing proper time, resources, and development into a clean, modern, adherence-based mobile app is often the best way to fast-track proper usage and long-term benefit to patient, physician, and company. Apps are often challenging and expensive to create and unfortunately cutting cost often means being less critical during (or omitting entirely) user-experience planning.

A delightful user experience makes all the difference from rapid adoption to lasting integration of treatment into users’ lives—not to mention the ability to track usage and improve your metrics in later phases based on that data. It leaves all the answers in the patients’ pocket at all times, as well as provides a way to gently remind and build loyalty throughout their journey…all while supporting our ultimate goal: Better outcomes.

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