Mind the Gap: Research Finds Physician Awareness of Patient Support Programs Lacking

As healthcare globally is shifting to driving economic and clinical outcomes, the life sciences industry is increasingly invested in creating patient support programs that assist with access, quality, and cost of treatments. However, our research has shown that fewer than 1 in 5 patients are aware of the services available to them. Patients who are aware indicated they typically learn about available services via their doctor, and they find value in the services provided more than 75% of the time.

To better understand the breakdown in patient awareness, we recently surveyed more than 360 healthcare professionals (HCPs) from a variety of fields (general practice, oncology, immunology, neurology, cardiology, and respiratory) in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany. The goal was to assess how HCPs view patient services—their value, level of awareness, and the extent to which they communicate information about services to their patients.

What did we find? Even though 80% of pharma companies rely on HCPs to tell patients about these programs, less than half of the HCPs we surveyed are “very aware” of pharma companies’ patient services programs. This lack of awareness, paired with patient and pharma company reliance, creates a critical disconnect wherein many patients are not learning about programs or tools that could help them manage their health and achieve better outcomes. The top seven ways HCPs hear or learn about patient services offered by pharma companies are:

  1. Pharma sales reps (70%)
  2. Conferences (64%)
  3. Colleagues/Peers (63%)
  4. Pharma website/portal (44%)
  5. Email (44%)
  6. Hospitals (37%)
  7. Patients (36%)

Reasons Behind the Disconnect

For pharma executives to improve the effectiveness of their patient strategies, it was important to further assess what is contributing to the disconnect in patient services messaging with physicians. What we found was that while most HCPs meet with pharma sales reps regularly, these discussions predominantly focus on the products—with patient services being a minor mention or not discussed. The results revealed that pharma reps and HCPs lack a consistent strategy around how and when to share information about patient services.

Almost half of HCPs surveyed (46%) said that they hear about patient services in less than 25% of meetings with pharma sales reps. According to HCPs, only 3 of 10 pharma sales reps present services in terms of patient outcomes. The majority (two-thirds) present these services as an add-on to a pharmaceutical product. The problem with this approach is that HCPs indicate they would be far more likely to recommend pharma companies’ services to their patients if sales representatives made a more compelling case for their use. What would constitute a compelling case? Most HCPs (63%) say that solid, published evidence of improved outcomes would increase their trust/belief in the value of patient services. And almost half (42%) said that evidence of services helping patients adhere to their treatment plans would increase their trust/belief.

Timing is also an important part of when information about patient services are communicated to avoid a “one and done” approach to making patients aware of existing programs. Of the 15% of HCPs that report “always” sharing pharma services information with their patients, they do so most often when those patients are starting out with a new therapy/drug/device, rather than at other points throughout treatment. Most HCPs cited a lack understanding and awareness as the primary reason they do not discuss these services with patients

This presents a clear opportunity for the industry to increase the positive impact it has on patients by more effectively engaging HCPs about the availability and benefits of their support programs. Our survey also found that communication channels such as conferences, email, websites, and portals are underleveraged in raising HCP awareness—HCPs indicate they learn less than 25% of what they know about patient services through these types of channels.

How to Increase Awareness

So, what can be done to make more patients aware of and enrolled in these helpful programs? As the conduit of information, pharma companies should aim to address communication gaps in three main areas:

  1. R&D and Commercial Gap: HCPs need data, and clinical trials are the ideal place to “make the case” for patient programs in the earliest stages of clinical trials. The data collected in this phase is valuable in optimizing the service design and demonstrating the value internally and externally.
  2. Product and Service Gap: When developing strategic marketing plans for brands, executives should work towards more holistic patient solutions that include medications, information, and support services.
  3. Engagement Gap: As part of the changing conversation in healthcare (towards a value-based approach), pharma companies should put outcomes first, before the product, through every external communication.

Bottom line: HCPs value patient services but don’t have strong awareness of them and are not frequently recommending them to patients. It is critically important to both recognize and position patient services as a key piece of an integrated solution offered by pharma companies to help HCPs address their patients’ health.

  • Tony Romito

    Tony Romito is North America Managing Director, Intelligent Patient Solutions at Accenture. An industry expert with more than 20 years’ experience in working with large pharma and med tech clients, Tony specializes the optimization of commercial strategy, technology and operations.

    • Eva Wiedenhöft

      Eva Wiedenhöft is European Managing Director, Intelligent Patient Solutions at Accenture. Before joining Accenture, she spent almost all of her her career working for major pharmaceutical companies. Today, she helps her clients rethink, reshape and restructure their commercial business models, strategies structures.

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