For many nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs), the COVID-19 pandemic led to new and increasing responsibility. That also means they can offer critical insights into how pharma can help them to better serve patients during this time.
In a new survey of 153 NPs and PAs from POCN, a network with 400,000 NPs and PAs, 71% of respondents said they felt supported by pharmaceutical manufacturers, but most respondents only gave an average rating when asked how life sciences companies are supporting their patients.
“In the survey, the NP/PA target audience indicated they would like to engage with pharma during COVID-19 and in the future—and engage through digital means,” Richard Zwickel, Founder and CEO of POCN, said in an email interview. “They are concerned that other therapeutic areas are potentially suffering as people are not actively going in to their HCP offices. They want the conversation to keep going, or to reignite—perhaps more than ever. And they appreciate the support.”
What NPs and PAs Would Like from Pharma
When asked what more pharma companies can do to support either NPs/PAs or their patients during this unprecedented time, respondents offered a few suggestions. For example, some mentioned the need for more financial assistance for patients and asked for pharma to send more links or emails to gain access to copay cards or coupons. Respondents also said they wanted to obtain samples more easily, such as by ordering them through the mail or being able to pick them up at the door. They also asked for more educational information for their patients about their disease or treatment as well as the latest clinical study information. Some even said they could use more masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). Others just would like reps to be there when needed and suggest that pharma companies reach out more to patients to check in on them.
When it comes to how they would like pharma to engage with them, the majority want to be reached electronically, through emails, journals, KOL webinars, etc. Additionally, 46% are open to virtual video sales calls that include meal delivery. NPs and PAs are also open to new ways to get the type of content they would normally receive during conferences. For example, respondents mentioned they would like to receive apps, text messages, emails, or thumb drives with information they can view on their own time. Respondents are also receptive to podcasts and video conferencing (such as Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams), while some are even open to meeting with in-person reps.
“The vast majority of the NPs and PAs who participated in this survey were very straightforward about how they’d like to be communicated with and how they expect to receive information during this challenging time in healthcare,” explains Zwickel. “Corresponding electronically via email, journals, KOL websites, and virtual rep visits are predominant methods for reaching and interacting with NPs and PAs right now, and most likely well into the future. Electronic outreach has many benefits, especially during COVID-19, including its accessibility at all hours of the day and its unobtrusiveness in distracting from patient care and practice management.”
In terms of the type of information they need, respondents were most interested in prescribing and treatment guidelines, patient assistance programs, disease/condition info, samples, and copay cards. Specifically, when asked what information they most want in regards to pharma products, they rated side effects profiles, pricing information, clinical research publications, dosing and titration, and administration instructions as the most valuable.
Respondents have also been exploring new channels that they previously never used to get product information, including sites such as GoodRx and UpToDate. Respondents at specialized practices found Facebook Groups to be a good resource for information. Others have turned to pharmacists, emails with KOLs, or webcasts.
The Changing Responsibilities of NPs and PAs
One reason NPs and PAs are in search of more information or support is the shift in their responsibilities during this time. Due to furloughs, many respondents report they have had to take on the role of nurse or medical assistant within their offices. Others have been deployed to areas in need including respiratory clinics, ER duty, and cross training. Some even mentioned that this has opened up opportunities for them that preferred provider organization (PPO) plans had previously denied. But a small majority did report their responsibilities remained the same so far.
Of course, telemedicine has also changed how NPs and PAs currently operate. In total, 73% of respondents mentioned an increased use of telemedicine (73%) with 95% saying they felt that telehealth has made a large impact on their interactions with patients. Furthermore, 88% say it has affected how they run their practice and 80% indicate it has changed how they make treatment decisions.
The majority of respondents also expect to continue to use telemedicine for follow-ups or urgent care issues even after we “return to normal.” However, 11% said they believe we will see a reduction in telemedicine use following COVID-19, even though it will continue to be used in some capacity overall. A few mentioned they plan to resume with only in-person visits once they are able, with several expressing their dissatisfaction with virtual visits. One respondent claimed telemedicine has made it “more difficult to treat,” while another said it is “hard to make decisions based on opinion and not actually listening to heart and chest,” and a third stated, “the treatment is different as you base more on history obtained.”
“In light of NPs and PAs largely shifting into areas of needs during COVID-19, the primary takeaway is that NPs and PAs will continue to act as a foundational part of our healthcare system, gaining more and more authority and autonomy every day,” Zwickel said in a statement. “Independence is growing as NPs and PAs spend more time with patients and increasingly make prescribing decisions independently. Pharma and life sciences companies have an opportunity to further incorporate NPs and PAs into their marketing plans by embracing them.”