Maintaining patient access to care during COVID-19

COVID-19 casts a spotlight on the need for healthcare providers to interact with people virtually, address the affordability crisis compounded by the pandemic, and alleviate the challenges presented by patients’ lack of access to physical care. Here are the steps companies need to take make it happen.

As the global crisis of COVID-19 unfolds at unprecedented speed and scale, life sciences organisations must adapt by virtualising care and supporting the continued access to treatments.

The threat of contagion and need for social distancing creates a challenge for people trying to engage in person with healthcare providers. New technologies, such as, apps and bots, and services such as WeChat and WhatsApp are facilitating virtual engagement in new ways.

But life sciences companies cannot simply apply a technical solution or service alone. Companies need to think through their approach, demonstrating empathy and respect for the deeply personal situation patients and healthcare providers face.

They need to, for example, make sure clients maintain access to clinical trials. As we look forward over the next few months, at least 6,500 clinical trials are at risk of being disrupted, according to Accenture research.

Not only are academic hospitals experiencing limited or paused enrolment as they maintain capacity to handle COVID-19, but patients also face multiple challenges trying to participate in trials.

“There has been a 65% decrease in the average number of new patients entering trials”

According to research from Dassault Systèmes’ Medidata comparing March 2019 and March 2020, there has been a 65% decrease in the average number of new patients entering trials. Most geographies have been impacted, with India down 84%, the UK down 80% and the US patient enrolment down 67%.

Right now, companies need to reframe how they approach support for patients based on the current in-crisis needs. Life sciences executives should create a command center across the business, defining how to triage incoming requests, roll out solutions and content. Gather intel from on the ground teams, inbound contacts from healthcare providers and patients to understand how each is newly impacted. Then provide briefs to field teams with recommendations on when to engage virtually and how to do so appropriately, with approved messages that include empathetic offers of support.

It’s also essential that life sciences executives do not lose sight of the affordability challenges patients are facing, which are compounded by the pandemic. Consider reprocessing recently rejected appeals and/or prior authorisations to help patients. Another solution may be temporarily repurposing sales representatives to act as field reimbursement reps for the next three-month period, or longer if needed. Partnering with a national pharmacy benefits management provider to waive out of pocket costs for COVID-19-impacted patients is another solution that could help ease the affordability burden for patients.

To help minimise care gaps, think through ways of extending how to support patients, at least temporarily, in overcoming physical barriers to access treatments.  For example, patient service providers could and should be doing the research for patients on where and when clinics are open and proactively sharing this information.

Longer term, the industry will inevitably need to face affordability issues – some solutions could be radically simplifying enrollment processes to take costs out, and automating access to prescription assistance programs.

Helping patients gain better access to services will also remain a challenge even after COVID-19, because for many patients it was a condition they had before the crisis. The industry should, where relevant and feasible, identify opportunities to provide digital solutions such as tele-visits and remote monitoring that help patients maintain access to care.

The actions life sciences companies take now will affect future trust in the industry and progress in science. How you respond must reflect the privileged role the industry plays in serving people.

About the author  

Stuart Henderson is a senior managing director leading Accenture’s Life Sciences business