The acceleration in adopting digital technology in healthcare provides new opportunities for drug manufacturers who seek to support patient adherence through personalized engagement programs. This is particularly important for patients with chronic conditions or on specialty therapies that require education and support beyond what can be offered during the regular physician appointment.

Digital support programs can deliver personalized health education and information directly into the hands of the patient when they need it most, via their mobile devices. These programs serve as an extension of the provider/care team, addressing common adherence challenges (i.e., access to financial support services, support with complex medication regimes, disease education, and support in making lifestyle changes) at moments in which the patient wouldn’t typically have direct or immediate access to their physician.

What Digital Patient Support Programs Can Provide

While many drug manufacturers are already seeing the benefit of digital support programs, adoption and implementation are still in early stages and further awareness is needed. As brand marketers look for ways to leverage technology to improve patient outcomes, they should consider the opportunities digital patient support programs provide:

  • Reducing the burden of disease management for the patient. Digital support programs seamlessly integrate into the patients’ lives, providing the consistent, ongoing reinforcement and motivation needed to change behaviors.
  • Earlier program initiation when a therapy is prescribed. The most effective programs begin at the moment a medication is prescribed, so patients have easy, direct access to financial assistance, side-effect management information, and other resources from the start of therapy. This increases the likelihood that patients complete their first fill, and begin to build a habit of adherence and engagement.
  • Improved communication and information about disease management. Physicians are limited on time when it comes to office visits with patients. Digital support programs can help reduce communication burden on physicians by providing access to information about financial assistance, disease education, and lifestyle modification tools directly to the patient at the appropriate time during their treatment journey.
  • Increased awareness about financial support programs. With the increase in digital technologies, we are seeing more options such as mobile copay cards and leveraging EHR systems to raise awareness of financial support programs. Digital support programs can integrate into those workstreams, helping to bring further awareness to the patient.
  • Adoption of new digital tools to increase patient awareness and engagement. Of the digital support programs, the strongest ones use a combination of tactics that address multiple adherence challenges and support the provider’s treatment plan. Delivering tactics directly to the patient automatically and/or when prompted by the patient.

Like many digital technologies, support programs can be adaptable across different diseases, making them versatile in use. Marketers should focus their messaging on the core areas of opportunities as listed above and understand that digital support programs enhance patient engagement and create a unique opportunity of personalized support.

Impact of Digital Support on Type 2 Diabetes

One example of a disease where these programs can have a significant impact is type 2 diabetes (T2D), given that medication adherence and lifestyle changes are critical to improving patient outcomes. A recent study that surveyed 25 top U.S. endocrinologists identified key areas where technology-enabled tools, like digital support programs, can address challenges T2D patients and endocrinologists face throughout the treatment journey.

Some of the top challenges endocrinologists face in treating diabetes patients include:

  • 73% of endocrinologists reported that patients’ lack of lifestyle changes as one of their top three challenges, and 83% reported moderate to high need for support in communicating with patients about how to start making those modifications.
  • 62% of endocrinologists reported that the high cost of medication was a top challenge, with 46% of their patients struggling to afford their medication(s). And 88% of respondents need more support in communicating how to access financial support/copay assistance programs.
  • 92% of endocrinologists reported needing additional support in communicating with patients about their self-care, and 47% indicated patients’ lack of self-care as a top challenge in managing their condition.

The survey also examined how endocrinologists spend their time during visits with T2D patients. Drug costs were identified as one of the least discussed topics, representing just 13% of time during office visits, despite being one of the top challenges identified. Due to both time limitations and the significant amount of information to cover during an office visit, endocrinologists may not always able to communicate everything they need to convey to patients, and they are limited in the support they can offer after patients have left their office.

Digital support programs are ideally suited to address these challenges, reducing the communication burden on endocrinologists while extending communications beyond office visits. As a result, they can be used to reinforce and support lifestyle changes and medication adherence, while also increasing access to financial assistance and other patient resources.

However, the survey also found that physicians’ familiarity with patient adherence and engagement technologies is not widespread. Of the six types of technologies addressed in the survey, mobile/digital copay cards were cited as the tool endocrinologists were most familiar with and believed most effective, but less than half of endocrinologists were familiar with the other technologies surveyed—despite substantial percentages finding them effective. This suggests ample opportunity to increase the use of these tools to address the challenges identified in treating T2D patients.

When implemented correctly, personalized digital support programs should integrate seamlessly into T2D patients’ daily lives, delivering the consistent reinforcement and motivation needed to form new behaviors, while also streamlining access to financial assistance and reminding patients to take or refill their medication. The strongest programs combine tactics to directly address the multiple challenges patients face in managing their disease—reducing the cost of medication, adhering to treatment, and committing to lifestyle modifications or self-care—while also relieving the burden on endocrinologists to be the sole source of guidance and education. Digital nurse programs can also be implemented to extend the reach of care further. As a result, patients are more informed about their disease management and physicians can make better use of limited face-to-face appointment time.

The results from this survey highlight not only the challenges endocrinologists face in treating their T2D patients, but also the key opportunities for brand marketers to better support physicians and patients along the therapy journey. By following the best practices outlined above and capitalizing on the digital technologies available at point of care, drug manufacturers can make significant advancements in improving both the patient and endocrinologist experience, as well as help improve outcomes in a challenging disease.

  • Sara Goldman

    Sara Goldman is VP Account Management, Patient Engagement at OptimizeRx. Sara is driven by her passion for patient-centric care and has been working to help close the technology gaps and improve patient outcomes experienced in patient activation and account management. She is focused on implementing solutions, driving client outcomes, evolving utilization of product functionality, and optimizing overall client and patient experiences.

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