In April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the use of telehealth surged with 32% of office and outpatient visits occurring via telehealth. That means telehealth was being used 78x more frequently than it was in February 2020, according to a report from McKinsey & Company. Since then, telehealth usage across specialties has largely stabilized to around 13% to 17%, which is still 38x higher than pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, this uptake in telehealth has also led to increased investment in the areas of virtual care and digital health. In that same McKinsey & Company report, they found that the level of venture capitalist digital health investment was 3x higher in 2020 than 2017.
Even as patients are returning to their doctor’s office, it is likely telehealth and other digital health options will remain in some capacity in a post-pandemic world. So, with more doctor-patient interactions occurring over digital or virtual platforms, what does this mean for point-of-care marketers? To help guide you through this transition, PM360 asked 10 experts within life sciences companies, agencies, suppliers/vendors, and telehealth providers:
- What are life sciences marketers’ biggest opportunities within the space of telehealth, telemedicine, EMR/EHR, remote monitoring, and other virtual care solutions? How can marketers deliver information within these channels for patients and HCPs as they wait to be connected or at the time healthcare decisions are being made?
- What opportunities exist for life sciences companies to partner directly with telehealth/telemedicine platforms?
- How can life sciences companies help HCPs and patients improve their ability to utilize telehealth/telemedicine and get the most out of their virtual interactions? What barriers to telehealth/telemedicine use are life sciences companies best able to help patients and/or HCPs overcome?
- What common missteps have life sciences companies made within telehealth/telemedicine as the use of these platforms surged during the pandemic?
- What is the future of telehealth/telemedicine post pandemic? How may companies look to adjust their strategy in this space as it evolves?
Transforming healthcare delivery isn’t easy or fast. Telehealth is a perfect example. Even with the major uptick of utilization by HCPs and patients, as well as reimbursement by payers (mainly driven by the pandemic), telehealth overall is still in its infancy. While telehealth is clearly here to stay, it’s unclear what it will grow up to be across primary, specialty, and acute care settings. However, it’s not too early for brands to adjust their strategies to meet the new opportunities created by telehealth, including in the following ways.
1. Direct-to-Consumer/Patient: More brands will find ways to embed telehealth experiences directly from their branded and/or non-branded outlets, such as services to connect consumers to a qualified HCP to discuss symptoms, get diagnosed, and/or get an Rx, as well as incorporating telehealth into patient support programs to help patients start and stay on treatment.
2. Samples Delivered to Patients: Expect more experimentation to find compliant, convenient, and scalable models to enable the prescriber to have medication samples shipped directly to their patients.
3. Built-for-Purpose Content: Brands will create branded and/or disease state content that can easily be shared with the patient before, during, and after a virtual visit.
4. Point-of-Care Messaging: While this one is easier said than done at any meaningful scale today with over 200 telehealth platforms, marketers are clamoring to quickly figure this out. Similar to in-office messaging (whether in the waiting room or exam room), several telehealth platforms are open to appropriate messaging while the HCP and patient are in the virtual waiting room.
5. Remote Patient Monitoring: We’ll see more efforts aimed at improving chronic care management via connected devices and medications with app suites that help patients and physicians stay connected between office visits, engaging them in co-managing a disease, specifically where symptoms tend to be underreported.
Traditionally, the EMR/EHR has been viewed simply as a media channel for pharmaceutical promotion to drive awareness at the point of care. However, this is only a small step along the path to maturity, a pathway that will ultimately result in the integration of EMR/EHR engagement into our strategies as an owned channel in a multichannel ecosystem capable of delivering personalized engagements. In this respect, the EMR/EHR becomes the channel that allows us to create a truly connected experience: one strategy for both HCP and consumer, driven by data and targeting in consultation, to affect the real moments that matter between HCPs and their patients.
Taking this next step, we begin to consider these platforms in light of the real-time possibilities they can bring to our commercial brands. For example, one EHR/EMR integration platform enables HCP audiences to connect directly with a medical science liaison (MSL) or their field sales representative to learn about a relevant treatment at the critical moment of diagnosis and prescription.
Further Transforming Marketing Within the EMR/EHR
Moving forward along our pathway, we can now bring personalized formulary or financial aid information to the HCP for each patient they’re treating. And, having been there to provide needed clinical and prescribing information puts our brands in exactly the right position to bridge the gap between prescriptions and patient support by enabling the HCP to recommend patient service programs directly within their own embedded workflow.
The opportunity and goal for all life sciences marketers is to become an unnoticed and valuable part of our audience’s lives and workflow. Expanding our customer experience strategies to encompass integration with today’s EMR/EHR “marketing” capabilities in an embedded and unobtrusive manner is one of the great opportunities we have to transform life sciences marketing.
If we want to continue to leverage telehealth within the healthcare industry post-pandemic, several factors must be addressed. First, we need to value relationship-based healthcare and not the historical transactional healthcare that has evolved. This requires focusing on a model that keeps the population healthy and out of the hospital, while the relationship between the primary care physician and the patient would be the primary focus. An outpatient team could manage patient care with the primary care physician used for their expertise, and the team of occupational therapists, physical therapists, dietary, nursing, etc., leveraging their expertise in keeping the patient healthy.
Telemedicine solutions would be added to keep patient visits to only what would necessitate a physical presence. Meaningful data and personal information could be monitored from a distance, thus making the delivery a continuous process. Second, the financial model has to change. The value of the physician team and a patient relationship will need to migrate from a Relative Value Unit (RVU) transactional encounter to keep the patient healthy. To achieve this, we must implement population health.
Changing Healthcare to Accommodate Telehealth
This requires understanding the wellness of the population and capitating the payment. Care delivery would no longer be illness intervention but wellness maintenance. Innovative concepts of virtual care and team care would be reinforced naturally by this model. Finally, medical education will need to strengthen the new model of care. The silos between disciplines should be addressed to leverage everyone on the team. Efficient use of technologies such as telemedicine will also need to be taught, and the quality and appropriateness of the encounter will need to be defined. To be appropriately leveraged post-pandemic, the model of care delivery and patient population outcomes must be the drivers of success.
“I think telehealth appointments are a lot easier and more accommodating to my schedule.”
With the unprecedented uptick in telehealth use last year, it’s no surprise that such examples of patient feedback align with a trend observed in a survey where we studied the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare. When we spoke with individuals living with chronic health conditions, they acknowledged welcome changes within the healthcare experience—even amid challenges spurred by the pandemic—as they used telehealth at increasing rates.
However, we also discovered consumers commonly have trepidations and a limited knowledge about telehealth—everything from uncertainty around which device(s) to use, worries of inaccurate diagnoses, confusion about whether telehealth should be used for urgent care or routine appointments, and anxiety about their privacy. Others shared positive attitudes including freedom from worrying about social distancing or wearing a mask in a waiting room, being able to see a specialist in another city, and the comfort of getting care in their own home, allowing them to be more open about struggles such as nonadherence and mental health.
Helping Improve the Telehealth Experience
To encourage and enable more successful telehealth experiences, life sciences organizations can offer tools and resources to reduce barriers of adoption and maximize the flexibility of virtual care. Incorporating conversation prep tools that are tailored towards navigating a telehealth appointment into a patient education strategy can play a key role, as can developing telehealth-focused educational resources, FAQs, and interactive experiences to help patients and HCPs get the most out of their visits and know what to expect.
During the pandemic and beyond, telehealth is proving to be a critical strategy in healthcare. Life sciences companies can offer valuable leadership in this space by providing education and tailored resources to ensure better health for all.
Virtual care solutions provide the opportunity for direct attribution and instant engagement, making them a powerful tool for marketers via push or pull marketing strategies. For instance, brands can direct patients from their websites or digital ads to an appropriate virtual care provider and close the loop of the patient journey. They also offer exciting media opportunities at the front- and back-ends of these platforms, such as strategically placed video spots in digital “waiting rooms” with content related to the patient condition.
As the post-pandemic inches closer, non-emergent and ongoing care for chronic diseases are also picking up once again, with some virtual care providers seeing a novel trend of remote monitoring for patients who need chronic care. These early signs suggest a future where these platforms evolve from a one-off treatment to a long-term care model, resembling the traditional primary care practice.
Pharma’s Enhanced Ability to Support Physicians
Most physicians are asking for information from manufacturers inside their EHR, which points toward untapped opportunities for brands to be present at the point of care.
Integration into telemedicine allows brands to employ contextual messaging by automating its delivery based on the patient condition and current exchanges with a specific patient. Telemedicine can also enable brands to deploy trigger-based messages at relevant moments, such as providing clinicians and their patients with medication savings offers via EHR-generated messages during the prescription phase. While these engagements are bound to strict guidelines, digital tools have already created a precedent for such remote interactions by allowing doctors to interact directly with the medical teams at pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Amgen.
Pharma could also leverage telehealth to support and interact with doctors, including those in remote areas, by being “on call” to answer questions about a particular therapy area or provide additional information on products.
Many HCPs profoundly underestimate the long-term impact of telehealth’s explosive growth. As a result, pharma marketers have a unique opportunity to establish thought leadership and win HCP loyalty by educating them about why they should embrace telehealth, and how to take advantage of its opportunities.
The first step: help HCPs recognize that telehealth is not about to go away. While utilization eventually declined as in-patient visits became possible, according to McKinsey, telehealth usage remains 38X higher than it was pre-pandemic. What’s more, according to the AMA, 73% of patients said they would continue to use telehealth services in the future.
No longer merely “patients,” today’s healthcare consumers demand convenience in all aspects of their lives, including healthcare. Ryan Rauch, VP of Marketing for the telehealth platform Mend.com, agrees. “Overwhelmingly, patients want the convenience of telehealth.” This demand for convenience will continue to drive changes in how healthcare is delivered. Today, the savviest consumers seek HCPs who can provide traditional care, urgent care, retail options, and multiple telehealth options.
Educating HCPs About Telehealth
At the individual HCP level, life sciences marketers can help HCPs transition to the modern world by educating them on best practices for integrating telehealth into their practice, which cases are most appropriate for telehealth, features available on various telehealth platforms, and more. Of course, each healthcare specialty has different telehealth needs and requirements. For example, psychiatrists can offer telepsychiatry for evaluations, therapy, patient education, and medication management. While pediatricians can help busy moms by adopting virtual appointments for a wide range of acute complaints that don’t require in-person evaluation.
Today’s HCPs often feel overwhelmed by constant change, including the rise of telehealth. The good news is pharma marketers can provide the expertise to help them adapt.
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the importance of the digital front door, as many patients have become reliant on digital tools such as telehealth to engage with providers. A digital front door doesn’t hinge on a single product. It’s about leveraging technology to optimize the patient journey at every point.
The impact of the pandemic has only reinforced the need for and benefit of integrating digital tools into behavioral healthcare and we are encouraged by the future opportunities for digital innovation in mental healthcare and patient support. Advanced digital solutions can make treatments more accessible to patients, generate better evidence and feedback to inform and evolve treatment plans, ensure patient safety and data integrity, and optimize trials to meet the needs of patients wherever they may be in their wellness journeys.
Keeping Health Tech Patient Centric
Over the last 5+ years, Otsuka has leveraged tools such as eConsent, eSource, eScanning clinical supplies, etc., that provide real-time insight to trial activities. Otsuka has been collaborating with companies such as Verily and Click Therapeutics to virtualize clinical trials and drive greater patient centricity as well as greater diversity and inclusion of trial participants. Earlier this year, we launched the first fully remote clinical trial using digital therapeutics as adjunctive therapy in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD).
Now more than ever, there is a need for scalable digital solutions that can dramatically expand access to mental health treatment without sacrificing the rigors of clinical validation or a patient-centered focus on engagement and user experience. Keeping patient centricity at the core of health technology, whether it be development or deployment, ensures we, as an industry, are always asking the right questions and ideally, optimizing the impact of our efforts to deliver a valuable and impactful solution that leads to improved patient outcomes.
Point of care continues to evolve, but a patient’s EHR remains the backbone of that care. All data points about a patient’s care are entered into the EHR—whether during an in-person or telehealth visit or at a later time. The EHR is prime real estate for brands to reach HCPs with relevant information related to the patient’s treatment directly within their workflow.
As the only platform where information is guaranteed to be captured at the point of care, the EHR provides countless opportunities for pharma marketers. For example, real-world evidence (RWE) can be highly leveraged within the EHR to help proactively identify and reach hard-to-find patients in real time during an HCP interaction thanks to information being plugged into the EHR both live and throughout the patient’s care journey. This gives marketers the opportunity to communicate with HCPs throughout a product lifecycle—from clinical trial recruitment through therapeutic interventions.
Improving Patient Access and Affordability
The ability to deliver treatment or financial information in real time, during a relevant patient interaction, can facilitate discussion on patient access and help get patients on therapy sooner. The right message, delivered at the right time, can set into motion a series of actions that can greatly contribute to positive outcomes—once a prescription is written, an alert is generated on the physician’s EHR to onboard a patient to a support program.
Pharma can deliver very pointed information from an access perspective. This messaging can be highly specific based on a patient’s insurance down to the prescription copay to increase price transparency and affordability. Understanding that each interaction between patient and provider is an opportunity to communicate relevant information that can have an impact on healthcare outcomes, the EHR is a crucial place where life sciences companies need to be.
Clients often ask how to best leverage technologies to achieve marketing strategic goals. In turn, I usually reply by saying, “How digital are you?” In the case of telehealth, this is essentially a digital business from inception, so the focus on marketing opportunities falls into a few categories:
1. Patient Recruitment: Telehealth companies must attract patients first. Marketing for specific conditions and diseases, coupled with the convenience and safety of a telemedical experience can be attractive to the average consumer. During the pandemic, older generations were drawn to telehealth firms such as Teledoc and MDLive to avoid an office visit. Post-pandemic, the same audience can be marketed for the convenience and personalized experiences of a telemed session. Younger audiences, who expect a truly digital/mobile experience, are also a key target.
2. HCP Recruitment: Like health maintenance organizations (HMOs), telehealth firms need a stable roster of physicians and care providers that will participate. Many HCPs have private practice groups that want a “white label” experience and to develop a more personalized interaction with their patients. In some cases, an office visit is coupled with the telehealth experience, so that test results and treatment options can be discussed remotely. Marketing to attract HCPs needs to highlight ease of integration with EHR systems such as Epic as well as portability and seamless connection to payer systems for insurance and Medicaid/Medicare.
3. Pharma Marketing to Telehealth Providers: One of the key challenges is that telehealth platforms are “closed,” however, to offset costs, many telehealth providers are starting to permit banner and right rail ads to appear. Using keywords and diagnostics, recommendation engines can still perform targeting without violating cookie/privacy regulations.
In short, marketing opportunities are abundant for companies interested in telehealth, requiring a focus and segmentation by the audiences.
Looking at the future of telehealth, there is a major movement from “virtual urgent care” to a range of services and solutions to improve convenience, access, outcomes, and affordability. With telehealth as part of patients’ chronic disease management, they connect more with their care providers, reducing the chance of a relapse in treatment and lowering hospital readmission rates. Telehealth helps patients with medication adherence and clinical and dietary outcomes.
Additionally, telehealth can extend the reach of physicians to many patients, providing virtual visits, remote monitoring and digital patient engagement tools to enhance their experiences with a broad healthcare team. This care is less costly than hospitalization, improves recovery and well-being, and eliminates the need to travel for appropriate services.
A Growing Trend
During the pandemic, 60% to 90% of physicians used telehealth. Going forward, it is essential physicians partner with a network provider to deliver sufficient bandwidth, latency performance, security, and availability for telehealth success. And they must invest in secure patient data management systems to improve disease diagnostics and treatment, cut wait times, and lower costs.
Combined with artificial intelligence (AI), chat bots, and more, telehealth can bridge the gap to make healthcare more accessible and improve outcomes. For instance, we are already seeing significant investments in behavioral telehealth along with a variety of services including teletherapy and telehealth for substance use disorder.
This trend is not likely to let up. A study found nearly 50% of healthcare executives surveyed predict a quarter of all outpatient care, preventive care, long-term care, and well-being services will be virtual by 2040.