As the U.S. enters a new phase and shifts from the crisis mode of the pandemic to the risk management mode of a potential endemic scenario, some elements of daily life will never go back to the way they were. Similarly, as the pandemic has intersected with the pharmaceutical industry, long held practices may be forever changed. ConnectiveRx recently brought together a pharmaceutical brand director, a prescriber, and a pharmacist to share their insights about how the patient prescription journey will never be the same. In their discussion, three significant themes emerged.
1. Brands Will Continue Experimenting to Build Share of Voice and Awareness
As prescribers began seeing patients remotely and pharmaceutical reps were no longer allowed into offices, brands were quickly forced to explore new approaches to deliver effective prescriber communications and drive speed to fill for patients. Shifts included moving to video calls, converting marketing materials into email form, and ensuring compliant methods of messaging. Omnichannel approaches to engagement and messaging were designed with a variety of delivery settings in mind—ambulatory practices, hospital and health systems, specialty practices, and pharmacies.
Monica Tai, Director Patient Experience Marketing, Cardiovascular, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, noted, “We’ve been enrolling office staff into our patient support programs, and we’re also working with payers to allow them to send sponsored communications to patients on our behalf. We’re doing the same thing with pharmacists, especially when it comes to affordability and potential deductible jumps. We don’t want people to be surprised, so we give them advance notice and pay for sponsored communications through pharmacists so they can get ahead of it through copay cards. Every stakeholder needs to be involved, especially in the retail setting.”
Because brand reps couldn’t call on prescribers and patients couldn’t get into offices, pharmacists became even more important stakeholders, resulting in increased patient reliance at that site of care. This represents a significant shift, because so many of our expectations around patient communications and awareness of patient support programs for specialty medications required prescribers to educate patients about such medications.
Additionally, it looks like smart changes to sampling programs are here to stay, at least in a hybrid capacity. Since 2020, brands have had to alter sampling programs to make them direct to the prescriber. This meant developing online request forms, refurbishing brochures, changing copay cards from multi-packs sent to reps into single cards for prescribers, and creating software for how they are ordered and shipped—a massive undertaking. After seeing success, manufacturers will continue to rely on these new practices (at least in part) going forward.
Senior sales reps are accustomed to face-to-face interactions with prescribers, so shifting to video calls and email was a major test of their agility—and of brands’ ability to retain share of voice. Brands, such as Janssen, turned to sales teams who were used to working remotely and able to offer best practices around remote sales, including allowing for flexible hours so reps could work with designated customers located in different time zones. These best practices are being evaluated by brands and incorporated into sales planning for the future.
2. Prescribers Pivot to Virtual Patient and Brand Rep Visits
For prescribers, telemedicine became a critical way to continue seeing patients throughout the pandemic. While the technology was slow to take off largely due to privacy laws and lack of prescriber reimbursement, those roadblocks were cleared and both prescribers and patients have come to appreciate the value of remote care. As we return to normal, it remains to be seen if payers will continue to reimburse for virtual visits and at the same rate for in-person visits.
“It’s about quantity vs. quality,” said Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, Internal Medicine, Primary Care, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at George Washington School of Medicine. “In-person visits were often just a 30-second pitch, but during the pandemic I’ve been able to spend time with reps discussing medications over video chat. It may be time to take another look at in-person versus virtual visits. Overall, I’ve learned that a lot that I do clinically can be done virtually, and the pandemic has reduced the digital divide for many patients, so they’ll be more likely to e-engage in other ways as well.”
Prescribers have embraced EHR systems for their ability to enable e-prescribing, medication refills, ordering lab tests, and getting test results delivered directly to the EHR versus having to hunt them down. For drug brands, being able to engage prescribers through the EHR increases share of voice, illuminates medication pricing information, and drives the delivery of patient assistance offers such as copay coupons. All of these benefits are delivered in workflow to prescribers and are important to the brand’s pick-up in market. Hence brand teams should be looking for the largest EHR network distribution they can get from a messaging partner.
3. Pharmacists Will Stay on the Front Lines
According to Dr. Lauren Hirao, PharmD, Pharmacist-in-Charge at Newport Lido Pharmacy, “Our main goal is to get patients their meds, following whatever the prescriber thinks is the best route to get there. While regularly scheduled pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) meetings were put on hold during the pandemic, pharma companies helped to fill the gap in patient coverage by providing copay cards as a buffer to ease the burden. These programs, as well as the in-workflow tools we use, gave prescribers and pharmacies the ability to get prescriptions covered and help ensure patients weren’t suffering without their medication.”
As patients spent more time with their pharmacists during the pandemic, they became more willing to have open conversations about their medication regimens and ask questions they may previously have been hesitant to ask—building a rapport that previously didn’t exist. Patients’ eyes were opened to the value pharmacists provide, creating a level of trust that can ultimately lead to better compliance and adherence. And by giving pharmacists tools that guide them to share product information with patients, brands continue to enable their increased role as educators.
Now that patients have experienced the convenience of various medication delivery options available during the pandemic, including mail and courier services, we’re likely to see a combination of patient pick-up and delivery into the future. And while telehealth pushed many patients out of their comfort zones, they became increasingly comfortable with prescriptions being sent electronically, leading to fewer misfills and errors.
Looking at 2022 and beyond, U.S. patient, prescriber, and pharmacist populations are now relying on engagement technologies and actively exchanging medical information in ways they didn’t before. For our industry, this presents new opportunities to meet patients and prescribers where they are and to better help patients navigate their healthcare journeys as painlessly as possible.