PM360 asked experts in engaging with patients how the patient experience can be improved following COVID and what can be done to reach a more diverse set of patients. More specifically, we wanted to know:
- What areas of the patient experience are in most need of improvements or changes, especially as a result of the pandemic? What can life sciences companies do to address these areas?
- How can life sciences companies better engage a more diverse patient population and make the patient experience more inclusive to all? How can they boost healthcare literacy across all cultures and ethnicities?
First and foremost, pharma companies must have the best interests of patients in mind throughout the treatment continuum. It’s important to consider the patient perspective in aspects of clinical trial design, marketing strategies, and simply understanding the ways in which the product they are developing will have an impact on patients’ lives and sympathizing with the burden/hardship that health conditions place on patients.
It’s also important for pharma to “give back” to patients in more ways than just delivering a drug that improves their health. Especially in light of the hardship COVID placed on patients and caregivers, supporting patients in their health journeys through patient access programs, grants for scholarships, or organizing support groups/chat lines conveys a message that pharma does have patients’ best interests in mind. That it isn’t about the profit to be gained from their unfortunate circumstances having a particular condition.
Including the patient voice and directly helping them builds a mutually beneficial relationship that is ultimately helping humanity: patients are getting medication and support for living the healthiest and most fulfilled lives they can and pharma is able to thrive with the help of patients’ loyalty and advice in product development strategies.
More attention needs to be paid to patient awareness of and access to support programs. Patients often get little time with their doctor to discuss therapy support. That time constraint, compounded by decreased in-person time with physicians, which was exacerbated by the pandemic, contributes to an information gap when patients need information the most—at the start of their therapy. Pharma reps also have less access to physicians to provide critical treatment materials such as starter kits, which means printed information is not getting into patients’ hands.
Improvements to the patient experience can be made in the delivery of patient support programs through diversified channels, such as by incorporating financial assistance and therapy support program enrollment within the EHR. A simple treatment onboarding experience provides pharma more opportunities to make access and support programs more accessible to patients at the point of care.
From seamless onboarding within the EHR, to personalized SMS text therapy programs that provide financial assistance and treatment information right to the patient’s mobile phone, manufacturers have many options to improve the patient experience by meeting them where they are throughout their journey with content timed to help fill any information gaps.
The pandemic accelerated the leveraging of technology to engage patients in a meaningful way. Certainly, the human touch has not gone away, but the fact that patients adapted well to video chats and educational portals when faced with in-person restrictions has given impetus to the alignment of patient services to the digital experience many patients now find routine.
Pharma now has “proof of concept” on working a digital platform into its patient experience model. These platforms should be designed to deliver an omni-channel experience underpinned by behavioral science and monitored for effectiveness and suitability to the individual patient. The evolution of AI and machine learning can take us further in meeting these patient needs by identifying key trends we can address for better engagement.
Ultimately, giving patients, their care partners, and HCPs individualized, transparent access to the treatment journey will create the best patient experience. However, we need to keep in mind the fine line we walk with giving too much information. When might it create undue turmoil and patient anxiety? For example, creating patient portals for daily updates on medication delivery may easily result in unnecessary patient frustration.
Engaging diverse patient populations is now more important than ever for life sciences companies. Not only have increasingly targeted and nuanced patient populations become the norm for an evolving healthcare industry focusing on orphan disease states and precision-targeted demographics, but the demands of formerly disenfranchised cultures and ethnicities are belatedly, if enthusiastically, being heard.
Such a welcome change is being facilitated and encouraged by a unique combination of human-powered compassion with innovative advances in digital technologies. By using ubiquitous technology to easily collect the thoughts and feelings of diverse populations, blended with linguistic analysis and AI/machine learning processing, once neglected patient populations are finally being comprehensively heard and properly understood.
An important result of this revolution in market research is the creation of lexicons and literacy programs that accurately reflect the needs, expectations, and communication habits of these audience segments. By adopting a consumer-centric and technologically innovative approach to market research, life sciences companies are at long last catching up to their counterparts in digital products and services, with once-neglected patient populations immediately benefiting.
Building initiatives with elements of healthcare education and awareness are key pillars of the foundation of community engagement. Companies should work with influential community voices and organizations to ignite conversation about the importance of a more inclusive patient experience; creating grassroots efforts to be seen as a committed and trusted partner and voice in the community; and empowering diverse patient communities to advocate for themselves and use their voice during their health journey. They should be proactively sharing news relevant to the community regarding medical treatments, changes in therapeutic areas and conditions, research, and industry highlights.
Additionally, it’s important to address possible barriers to healthcare access—such as negative experiences with the medical community, cultural nuances that foster fear and mistrust, and any history of being disregarded, not heard/considered/understood, or thought of as incompetent by medical professionals—and provide ways to mitigate these issues.
Companies can work to boost healthcare literacy across all cultures and ethnicities by creating and maintaining a steady, open, and authentic line of communication with diverse patient populations and meeting patients where they are—both literally and figuratively.
It all comes down to more diverse representation in healthcare. There is a universal need for more doctors of color because patients of color prefer to receive messaging and direction from people with similar backgrounds. The messaging that life sciences companies share should greatly reflect what the patient population looks like and should reflect the culture and values of the target groups. If the representation is there, the patient population will grasp the healthcare content with trust.
We also need to re-focus the need of communities least observed, such as ASL. The deaf community is unfortunately often overlooked, and healthcare literacy should include specifics for their health regimens and patient support. In order to engage a more diverse patient population, it is important to look at all potential overlapping communities—not just the majority. The needs from one patient group can vary dramatically from another patient group—even for the same medical indication.
When patient education only reflects the majority—we are failing at engaging overall healthcare patient experience. Life sciences companies could conduct further research to develop content for any possible impacted community, and release education materials so that the content is as specific and relevant as possible.