Solving pharma’s patient services paradox

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Pharma companies are expending considerable time, energy and money on developing services that are designed to support patients before, during and after treatment across therapeutic areas. But there’s a paradox at the heart of these patient services.

Although patients want them and pharma companies invest in them, most patients are not getting to hear about and use them. The reason for this is the stark communication gap between pharma companies and the healthcare professionals who guide and advise patients.

Somewhere along the way, patients simply aren’t being made aware of the services that they could use. We set out to find out why. The single biggest cause we found was the inability of the pharma companies to get the message about their services through to healthcare professionals (HCPs) who are the most trusted source of patient information.

Accenture’s research shows that only 22% of UK HCPs say they are very aware of patient services, compared with 40% elsewhere in Europe and the US. The lack of understanding means that they don’t tend to talk to their patients about the possible services that may be available.

Patient services = better outcomes

But that’s not to say that HCPs are reluctant to tell patients about services that may be available. In fact, healthcare professionals in the UK are far more likely than their global counterparts to say that services help them deliver better patient outcomes. And only 5% say that they can see no or few benefits from patient services.

Limited HCP awareness of pharma services

When analysing the awareness of patient services among HCPs, there is a stark communication gap, which is potentially putting better patient outcomes at risk. The primary reason UK HCPs advise patients about the services offered by pharmaceutical firms is because they help deliver a better patient outcome. Yet almost 80% of UK HCPs have limited awareness of patient services and, as a result, just 18% say they always share information about them with their patients.

HCPs don’t know what they don’t know

The problem is that they simply don’t know what they don’t know. So what are the channels they use to get information about services today? Sales reps are the second most important source of information after conferences for UK HCPs. But sales reps tend to present services as an add-on to a product rather than as a solution to provide a patient outcome. Other sources for HCPs about services range from colleagues and peers, pharmaceutical and other websites, hospitals, email, news and other media.

With such a fragmented landscape of sources for information about services, it’s perhaps unsurprising that HCPs remain unsure about the services that are available and whether to recommend them to patients.

Instilling confidence and bridging the understanding gap

What could provide them with more confidence? HCPs suggest a number of actions that pharma companies could take to increase awareness and enhance trust in the value of patient services. Over two-thirds say that publication of results of improved patient outcomes would achieve this, and over half also say that they would like to see evidence of adherence rates; observational studies and testimonials from patients.

The solution? Close the gaps

How should they do it? They need to close three gaps:

  • The R&D and commercial gap

Pharma companies will need to generate evidence on the impact of patient services on outcomes— starting with clinical trials. Showing that patient services have a notable effect on patient outcomes is essential to make a compelling case to HCPs. This calls for embedding services into the product-development process, starting with clinical trials, to generate the required data to prove a positive impact on patient outcomes.

Capturing this evidence at the very earliest stages of clinical trials will also help prove the value of services internally to sales reps, medical affairs, and budget holders, who will then advocate for or allocate resources so that service programmes can be developed more effectively and marketed more purposefully. Taking these steps will help make patient services part of a company’s DNA.

  • Product and service gap

Pharma companies must refocus commercial functions from developing and marketing brands to designing and marketing holistic patient solutions. For many organisations, taking this step will require a huge change of mindset. Some organisations have tasked their brand teams with marketing patient services. But that’s typically led to patient services being developed as an afterthought or add-on to the product.

Other pharma companies have built separate patient-services organisations working separately/in parallel to brand or marketing teams; this approach also relegates services to add-on status.

Leading organisations will embed patient-services talent into their existing brand teams to enable their organisations to build and market holistic solutions – or even replace brand teams with ‘outcome’ teams.

  • Engagement gap

Pharma companies must change their conversations with HCPs (and the market) to focus on outcomes – across all channels and with greater frequency. The entire healthcare industry is shifting to a value-based approach, but pharma companies still focus on their products. Sales reps’ incentives, for example, are still largely based on sales metrics. But that’s out of kilter with the HCPs’, patients’ or payers’ goals of improving patient health and outcomes.

Instead, pharmaceutical companies need to embrace an ‘outcomes-first’ mindset. That means bringing an outcome, rather than a product, to market. They need to ensure that every communication through every channel leads with the outcome – positioning it as ‘what’ they are selling and ‘why’ their offerings should matter to their target audience – with the combined product and service(s) solution explained as the ‘how’.

Pharmaceutical organisations therefore have both a responsibility and an opportunity to improve the lives of patients by refocusing services on outcomes and building stronger bridges with HCPs. They can do this by improving communication to and the understanding of HCPs and ensuring that these services are positioned in the right way through the right channels. Failure to do so is a huge missed opportunity to present patient services as an alternative to improve patient outcomes.

Pervaise Khan, managing director, UKI Life Sciences Strategy, Accenture