Pharma’s response to COVID-19: Lilly and diabetes care

As part of our series looking at how pharma companies have adapted to the pandemic, Shannon Rush, leader of Eli Lilly and Company’s diabetes business unit in Northern Europe, tells pharmaphorum how the company is working to support diabetes care in the UK amid the pandemic.

As COVID-19 turned the world on its head, healthcare services for people living with long-term conditions like diabetes, came under a huge strain.

With the NHS advising that the virus could have a worse effect on people with diabetes, Lilly knew it needed to help physicians keep services running.

“From a business unit standpoint, the first thing we did was to connect with clinicians and ask how we could help,” Shannon Rush told pharmaphorum. “I needed to get a pulse of how we could add value.”

The company decided to develop a series of virtual webinars to support physicians with COVID-19. The first part focused on how healthcare systems could triage patients with diabetes and COVID-19.

“We looked at how will you need to assess them? How does it affect the medications they are on? What things would you do differently?” she said.

The next part tackled how to virtually assess patients and initiate different medications. “We really just flipped everything on its head. We had to adapt to what our customers need from us right now and help them handle a co-morbidity illness during an acute healthcare crisis.”

Offering the webinars from across the organisation only two weeks after conceiving the idea was a proud moment, says Rush.  “We are still offering it as obviously this is our new reality – we won’t be going back to the days of clinicians seeing as many people face-to-face.”

“The innovation of how we live, how we’re able to interact from a healthcare setting, I think it’s something that will live beyond COVID-19. For me, it is just the sheer impact of how we all adapted, not just the healthcare system, in general, to really respond to the situation.”

While the pandemic accelerated plans, digital education is something Lilly had always planned to do. Ensuring compliance across the company was also a challenge.

“That is our North Star, we want to make sure we’re doing things in a compliant way. Again, it was another cross-functional effort across our entire organisation to make sure that we were able to interact virtually in the right way,” says Rush.

“It seems like it’s common sense, but as we see, there are more challenges to it, sometimes, than not. We had a general upskilling, as well, in diabetes to help advance the treatment during this, as well.”

Population health tools

Lilly diabetes also worked with the NHS, to create a population health management tool. The tool PARM (ProActive Register Management) Diabetes allows for clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to stratify the risk and opportunities to treat specific populations and review analytics on different cohorts living with illnesses. The tool organises practice-level patient data to show how well patients are managing their condition, identify any potential issues as well as those who need critical or urgent attention, and can predict who may need input from a diabetes specialist in the future.

“That’s another way we’ve been able to help beyond the day-to-day patient care. The data stays within the CCG but it helps them to look at their organisation and the ones they serve.”

For Lilly, it opens partnership opportunities for different resources that could help CCGs assess the needs of their population. This support across the healthcare value chain is important for the company, Rush says.

“We do not have direct opportunities for direct patient feedback, but via clinicians the main thing we heard was that they wanted stability. Patients wanted the reassurance that even while COVID-19 was in this acute phase they could still manage their health effectively.”

PARM Diabetes aims to provide this stability. “For some there is comfort in knowing that everybody was doing the right thing to manage COVID-19 but not forgetting there were opportunities for those living with diabetes and other illnesses to continue to manage as they would.”

Despite the severity and devastation of COVID-19, Rush believes there have been some “shining lights” coming out of it.

“The innovation of how we live, how we’re able to interact from a healthcare setting, I think it’s something that will live beyond COVID-19. For me, it is just the sheer impact of how we all adapted, not just the healthcare system, in general, to really respond to the situation.”