Strategies for Driving New Patient Starts Virtually

According to a survey of 1,000 people conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Kyruus in March 2021, 52% of respondents delayed some form of care during the pandemic. At a time when many of these respondents (48%) felt unsafe to attend an in-person doctor visit, telehealth became a popular alternative. In the past 12 months, 62% said they have had a virtual care visit of some kind—and moving forward 40% would prefer to continue to use telehealth for routine or mental health visits or at least a hybrid approach with both virtual and in-person visits.

While telehealth use has stabilized since the height of the pandemic—McKinsey & Company has found it has settled at around 38x higher than pre-pandemic levels—virtual healthcare services have certainly left an impression on patients. According to McKinsey’s report, Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?, between 40% and 60% of consumers are interested in a set of broader virtual health solutions, including a “digital front door” or lower-cost virtual-first health plan.

As virtual healthcare becomes more prominent, what role can life sciences marketers play in encouraging people to take advantage of these services and ensuring that patients don’t fall through the cracks and take longer to get diagnosed than is necessary? To find out, PM360 turned to 10 experts to address the following questions:

  • As in-person visits and things like screenings for diseases decreased during the pandemic, how can life sciences companies provide more education and disease awareness to potential patients in a virtual or digital environment in order to help them better recognize symptoms or the need to connect with a healthcare provider? What kinds of virtual/digital programs or initiatives are the most effective in providing patients a clear understanding about a new disease?
  • How can life sciences companies best identify and target potential new patients that are in need of disease education or other programs that can provide them with the support they need?
  • What kind of support, tools, or programs can life sciences companies provide to patients to help them connect with HCPs via telehealth/telemedicine? What can companies offer to help make these virtual visits more effective for both patients and physicians?
  • What other services, programs, tools, or technology can life sciences companies develop or offer to help expedite the time to diagnosis for new patients, especially in a virtual environment?
  • How else can life sciences companies and marketers best optimize the patient experience online for those at the beginning of their patient journey as they prepare for the challenges they will face ahead?

James Tinker

The pandemic has driven various changes in patient experience across categories, and we’ve seen broader implementation of technology solutions (take telemedicine as an obvious example).

At the same time, we’re in a period of radical shifts impacting how we can support health and wellness. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is ever improving through advancements in wearables and digital sensors as well as the data platforms that technology interacts with. Last year, the government expanded Medicare coverage for RPM solutions beyond chronic conditions to also include acute conditions.

Meeting Patients’ Rising Expectations

Patient demand for these services is growing—and will continue to do so. Even prior to the pandemic, patients’ expectations were changing—with a 2019 survey reporting that 90% of patients no longer feel obligated to stay with providers who cannot offer satisfactory digital experiences. Additionally, there is a general increased focus on individual health and self-monitoring for proactive preventative measures. So life sciences companies have an opportunity to engage better with patients early on across a range of therapeutic categories. Through smart use of the right technologies, we can identify various at-risk populations and work to engage with them sooner—driving diagnosis, lifestyle change, or demand for products depending on the situation.

As always, it’s about understanding the patient experience, and optimizing communications to that experience. This is true both in terms of understanding the emotions, concerns, and conversations patients are having early on in their journey as well as providing genuine support to help them navigate their new reality. As marketers, we understand how to drive consumer demand through digital channels, especially from brands outside healthcare. Combine this with investment in the right digital solutions and platforms—either through new development or partnerships with developed tools—and brands can engage with patients more broadly and more deeply.

Arianne Breiteneicher

A great opportunity exists to maximize patient awareness and visibility through advocacy partnerships. Depending on the disease state, reaching patients through advocacy channels at local or independent groups all the way to national groups can provide life sciences companies a concentrated pool of potential patients. Most advocacy organizations are moving to hybrid events (in-person + virtual) and sponsorships of those events allow companies to provide a more direct, educational exchange including product materials in bag inserts, return to traditional mailings (having the ability to provide branded materials in the group mailings), eBlasts or sponsored content online, and virtual booths to provide approved patient materials or links to relevant webpages. Curating the content to fit within the advocacy channels is key—easy checklists and questionnaires with a tear-off to start a conversation with their doctor create urgency and a reminder of how a brand/therapy may help.

Successfully Reaching Patients Virtually

Another successful tactic that transitions nicely into a virtual environment is HCP-to-Patient Branded Speaker Programs. Having patient programs which encompass disease state-specific information, how to live well with X condition, and bookending with branded product information, provide brand awareness, share of voice, and credibility with an HCP speaker. Partnership with these types of programs alongside advocacy groups ensures the company is delivering the right message to the right target audience.

Lastly, patients, during the pandemic, have become more technology savvy—especially those in the older populations. Programs such as Nativo, with sponsored content by life sciences companies, can be integrated into news and media outlets to offer another strong way to connect with target patient populations. Marketers can use this kind of digital intelligence to meet patients where they are and where they seek information in order to deliver branded or unbranded content.

Jean Drouin

The pharmaceutical industry has a critical role to play in ensuring underserved communities and vulnerable patients receive equal access to care and treatment through better disease education, greater clinical trial diversity, innovative assistance programs, and new policies. Life sciences leaders are increasingly in need of real-world evidence (RWE) and socio-behavioral insights to pinpoint the needs of vulnerable patients and surface the most impactful, real-world opportunities to ensure they get accurately diagnosed and on the right therapy.

For example, pharma leaders have business questions such as: Are there discrepancies between patients who are diagnosed and those who are treated based on race and socioeconomic status? They need to explore and understand how patients’ journeys, treatment decisions, and outcomes are impacted by non-medical factors such as race, income, transportation access, housing stability, education level, health literacy, and propensity to exercise.

Better Understand How Social Determinants of Health Impact Patients

Doing this at scale, with speed and precision, requires next-generation RWE that considers how medical care and social determinants of health (SDoH) interconnect to influence outcomes. These RWE solutions rely on massive, rich data sets with vast sources of clinically relevant consumer data de-identified and linked together with government and commercial claims, clinical data, and prescription and dispensing data, to provide a window into the complete patient journey.

It also requires advanced analytics that use predictive models and machine learning that draw upon these journeys to uncover hidden patterns and extract more precise insights. The process is analogous to the big-data efficiencies that are commonplace in the banking and consumer industries but applied to a system of record for patient journeys rather than consumer credit scores and purchasing behaviors.

Erik Janssen

The power of new medical technology and treatment advancements is at our fingertips, thanks to the virtual environment we live in. In today’s digital world we now have better access to data-driven insights, technologies and, most importantly, each other. Our goal is to expedite the path to patient diagnosis and treatment, as we understand time is precious and often limited for many patients.

The world looks vastly different to when I first started my career, but one thing remains the same, patients must be at the core of the work we do. At UCB, patients are our guide and legacy. As we forge ahead in creating new solutions, with ever-evolving technology, it is no surprise that we are presented new challenges as well. We face these challenges head on to create expedited roads to recovery and personalized care to those with critical diseases, such as axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA).

Leveraging Technology to Help Patients

For instance, our developing platform, FasTRAX, answers your question. It aims to halve the time to diagnosis and optimize treatment for axSpA patients by targeting specific breakpoints in their journey through digital tools and technologies to create the most efficient pathway, while helping patients navigate an often-complex healthcare system. We aim to deliver solutions as fast as possible by listening and learning from patients and leveraging revolutionary technology and science.

UCB is inspired by patients and driven by science, and we persevere through challenges to deliver life-changing treatments patients need most. This would not be possible without breaking the status quo and disrupting the healthcare ecosystem. UCB is building a new era, marrying healthcare technology and patient experiences to bring new, impactful solutions to patients now and in the future.

Loreen M. Brown

Life sciences companies should be executing “beyond-the-drug” digital strategies that demonstrably put patients first. The ideal digital solution is a comprehensive ecosystem that connects and engages all stakeholders in care, providing: 1) an ideal experience for patients and HCPs; 2) patient-centered care and support globally; 3) real-time connectivity, interventions, and behavioral coaching; and 4) measurably improved outcomes and lower costs. Next-generation strategies help competitively differentiate manufacturers and their brands by creating robust research-through-commercialization ecosystems integrating support programs, content, and tools from across the organization. Composable digital ecosystems can be deployed on a single platform as the foundation to capture robust RWE, reveal valuable patient insights, and deliver a seamless experience throughout the ongoing patient journey.

Patient-Centered Digital Care Platforms

The hallmark of an effective digital care platform is flexibility, enabling companies to deploy customized, patient-centric solutions based on market needs and available budgets. Any platform should integrate with a broad range of systems, sensors, and devices to maximize real-time data capture potential. Solutions that take this concept further apply AI to analyze high-frequency data, identify anomalies, and deliver actionable decision support insights enabling real-time interventions. In total, the most progressive platforms are comprehensive, modular, and highly configurable supporting:

  • Any disease
  • Any indication
  • Any language or country
  • Any device or OS
  • Any communication channels
  • Any protocol or content

In an increasingly digital world, life sciences companies should adopt an enterprise platform solution that provides a digital “sandbox” for innovation and continuous improvement to meet the evolving needs of patients. Ultimately, this approach can support label expansion strategies and negotiate better formulary position and pricing with payers, all while increasing patient-care team engagement to provide better support, treatment, medication compliance, and outcomes.

Chris Duncan

A hybrid approach of pre-recorded content with the ability to interact with a live HCP will enable life sciences companies to educate, engage, and activate patients. A searchable database of relevant content/information on the company’s product, therapy, or device will provide patients seeking very specific information the ability to get access to the most relevant information they need.

Providing Patients Different Ways to Get Key Information

Videos, literature, infographics, etc. can be organized in a searchable database, which can be on anything from a Facebook community page to the company’s own product site. Once viewed, patients have the ability to answer a few questions about their needs and desire to be connected with a live healthcare professional. This virtual visit (more self-directed education and referral) leverages existing patient content to educate people early in the journey when they are seeking information. The engagement via specific pre-programmed questions about their needs moves the patient further in their journey to be activated by connecting with an HCP via a live/virtual visit.

Transparency is critical and patient awareness of the sponsor and product ensures the desired action is rooted in the patient’s knowledge that they are seeking better information about a viable treatment option. The HCP follows best practices to evaluate the patient for the given condition and provides recommendations based on the information given and their medical expertise, which can range from recommending lifestyle changes to further tests to specific medication.

Paul Cowley

More often than not, patients leave physician offices overwhelmed with new information while confronting a wide range of health decisions. Continuing their support into the home is critical, while enabling a shared learning experience can lend comfort. Very few patients make their decisions and transition to their therapy in isolation. In-clinic conversations often have patients walking away, realizing post visit (virtual or otherwise) that there were questions unanswered or information missing. Turning to peers and family members is instinctual, but it needs to be facilitated and curated in order to be of maximum benefit.

You do not have to target which patient needs support. ALL patients need aid, only at different levels and at different times throughout their health journey. Giving patients information in small increments is key, so that the patient can build on each block of information. It is an integral and continuing part of patient care.

Supporting Both Individuals and the Community

As patients begin new therapies, each personalized experience that can be achieved via an online engagement and wellness map is an individualized care plan designed to measure not only medication adherence, but wellness criterium such as mood, stress, energy, and social support—all driving towards the goal of understanding and improving an individual’s outcomes.

Another consideration is having a sufficient amount of the right data—for example, leveraging data that comes from remote patient monitoring, self-reported wellness trackers, and physical and behavioral health tech and aggregating it up to achieve two things. The first is using this data to support the return to health of the individual patient. The second is widespread support to the health and well-being of a patient community as collective behavior adjusts based on the engagement built within a socially supportive, secure, online environment.

Richard Schwartz

When you unpack the path to a prescription, it is incredibly complex. Whether you follow the product, approvals, or the money, there are multiple parties—pharma, physician/prescriber, provider system, payer, and pharmacy—involved who all have opportunities to make it seamless and frictionless.

Improving the customer experience starts with aligning to the Forrester’s CX Index, which indicates that the collective experience has to be easy, effective, and take into account the emotions across the journey. In order to ensure this is true, these episodic experiences need to be tracked by collecting direct and indirect feedback from the people involved. And when something breaks or the experience is less than optimal, organizations need to quickly rescue and resolve the known issue for the impacted patients and any future ones.

An Experience Built on Truth

The best way to optimize the patient experience is to not design around what you as a brand believes should happen in your ideal world. Rather you should understand the truth about what is actually happening and what patients need. With the right technology, you can build experience journeys that can automatically identify where you may be creating or dealing with detractors or promoters. Advanced analytics can tell you if you are supporting an angry patient or a sad one, a doubtful doctor or one lacking deeper data. In each case, these individuals require unique responses based on their prevailing emotions. Understanding the triggers behind these emotions will help organizations drive the desired outcomes.

It is no longer about creating a fantasy world with perfect places and smiling, beautiful people in direct-to-consumer ads. It’s about understanding the truth and supporting it where it goes wrong and enhancing and scaling it where it goes right. We have to listen, observe, understand, and resolve at the speed of need.

Sarah Larcker

Find patients where they already are and partner with resources they already trust such as endemic websites and doctors’ offices. But also consider newer resources such as online symptom checkers to intercept patients earlier or clinical trial finders to identify dissatisfied patients.

Partner with trusted organizations, including advocacy groups, online communities, and condition-specific influencers across both established and emerging platforms. But also think outside the box by working with, or leveraging data from, unexpected sources uniquely relevant to the lives of your patients. Say you have a product indicated for multiple sclerosis. In the summer, MS patients are advised to stay cool since symptoms often worsen due to overheating. Consider working with weather apps, city cooling centers, or breathable apparel companies. Some users of these products may be seeking them out as a result of bothersome symptoms, which could make them receptive to disease awareness or patient education.

Help Improve the Diagnosis Process

An innovative approach to accelerating time to diagnosis is found in the Microsoft-Eurordis-Shire (now Takeda) partnership established in 2017, which resulted in three key recommendations: helping patients and doctors better understand the links between seemingly unrelated symptoms, providing doctors with better tools and knowledge to more quickly identify rare diseases, and opening up access to genetic consultations by standardizing the process and incorporating more telemedicine.

Pharma could either initiate similar alliances, or instead ideate on the three areas already identified. Some ideas include:

  1. Invest in better diagnostics, including those for specific genetic markers, while also contributing support for expanded genetic testing.
  2. Help improve symptom checkers that are routinely used by patients prior to diagnosis by contributing expertise and/or data for target therapeutic areas.
  3. Partner with emerging technologies on “intelligent triage,” which increases the likelihood of getting patients to the right doctors faster.

Destry Sulkes

The pandemic pushed aside many layers of decades-old healthcare industry restrictions and made it possible for doctor-patient visits to happen online. It has forced healthcare and life sciences companies to catch up with the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) sector and adapt to the convenient digital channels where consumers already get groceries, do their banking, book their travel, watch new movies, and generally connect with and create meaningful experiences with their favorite brands.

And good thing, because healthcare journeys start long before the consumer is motivated to find a doctor, schedule a visit, and go into the office. Given the dramatic upsurge in digital media and usage, life sciences brands can now initiate relationships with people much earlier in their journeys and provide seamless experiences with faster access to information, the ability to talk with a range of clinicians 24/7, and immediate access to physicians through virtual visits.

Reimagining the Digital Experience

Historically, digital properties were limited to offering static pages chock-full of all the content anyone might need. Modern human design principles demand for these properties to be re-imagined and personalized—think or! People want to get to what they need in a single click. And with omnipresent and omnichannel support via chat, that means patients can now click to access live nurses as well as an array of telehealth options to their own doctors (or new doctors if they prefer). It’s time we give people a deeper patient experience by connecting more with healthcare brands.


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