The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed many aspects of our daily lives — healthcare notwithstanding. Seems obvious today, but many areas within the medical field both experienced significant change and are still being impacted — particularly around patient education and interactions through technology.
One example is found within the provider-biopharma representative relationship.
The pandemic forced pharmaceutical companies to reexamine almost everything — from how they communicated with providers to supply chains, the manufacturing process and even how to reach patients along their journey. An approach of traditional face-to-face meetings between a sales force and providers was no longer viable. A 180-degree change toward digital technology was now a necessity.
This sudden emphasis on electronic sharing of information made life easier for both parties — but it had its potential drawbacks for patients. With fewer biopharma representatives available to drop off samples at provider offices, patients suddenly lacked a supply of free medications to help offset affordability challenges.
Patients also missed out on education opportunities that come from including biopharma information and coupons within a provider workflow — all changes that could be a game-changer for patient conversations. Other potentially missed education opportunities include information on drug side-effects and interactions. That’s why an ideal solution surfaces both medication-specific details as well as easy-to-understand benefit information, a combination that could have a cumulative impact on patients’ health literacy.
Only 25% of pharmaceutical industry professionals believe in-person interactions will go back to pre-pandemic levels.Fierce Pharma"Pharma marketing's digital reality finally took hold — and there's no going back," Dec. 21, 2020
Figuring out to how bridge the past — face-to-face interactions — with the future — a hybrid of traditional and digital — will be essential for providers in this new normal. Particularly as this trend toward digital interactions looks set to stay.
A late 2020 Accenture research study found that nearly 90 percent of doctors preferred a hybrid model of virtual and in-person rep visits once the pandemic subsides.
Meanwhile, a more recent survey of pharmaceutical industry professionals found similar results. Three-quarters of the respondents said after the COVID-19 pandemic has fully receded, virtual interactions will remain “either as a standalone option or a mix of in-person and virtual interactions.”
Perhaps most tellingly, only a quarter believed in-person interactions would go back to pre-pandemic levels.
How pharmaceutical marketing changes will impact patients in 2021 and beyond
The pharmaceutical industry is changing. Field sales representatives have spent little time in doctor’s offices over the past 15 months, and many experts think that change may be permanent.
In our COVID-19 survey of more than 2,700 providers, 35 percent said they have had no contact with pharmaceutical sales representatives during the pandemic — but 88 percent expressed interest in being contacted (mostly by email, phone or teleconference).
Perhaps the most meaningful shift has been in how digital tools and technology are now more widely adopted. These ideas or concepts existed before the pandemic, but their implementation has quickened since the COVID-19 pandemic, as regulators and legislators cleared hurdles blocking adoption.
One thing the pandemic taught healthcare was that its digital infrastructure wasn’t prepared for the pandemic.
“As the U.S. enters its second decade of nationally coordinated digital infrastructure for healthcare delivery and to modernize patient care, COVID-19 has demonstrated that this infrastructure is inadequate to respond to public health emergencies.” —Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association
In other words, health IT was unprepared before COVID-19, which hastened the development of better digital infrastructure and led to a push toward interoperability. This acceleration has often led to better, and more communicative, relationships between pharmaceutical reps and their doctors.
Traditional biopharma representative interactions remain restricted while critical brand-specific communication, such as new FDA approvals, new research and new formulations, to care teams remains a necessity. Half of providers surveyed by CoverMyMeds indicated they prefer digital communication from brands when businesses return to pre-pandemic operations.
More electronic sharing of information has made life easier for care teams because those materials can also be shared with patients when discussing a specific drug. For doctors and their patients, this means a couple of things.
First, the provider can utilize and share relevant, accurate data at the right time.
Traditionally, providers have spent an average of 13-24 minutes with patients over the last three decades. In that limited window during face-to-face interactions, providers have sometimes struggled to find the information they need, review it with the patient to ensure they understand the information and then get the information into the patient’s hands. And on top of those challenges, more than half of providers surveyed indicated health literacy impacted their patients’ ability to access healthcare.
But with a robust technological solution surfacing this information electronically, this important medication information can be more easily shared with the patient.
I don’t know how people can afford to be sick and still live their lives. So, I opted out.Patricia
For patients, this trend signals more information on their end. The educational process is 360 degrees, with pharmaceutical reps, providers and their patients learning more as they go and asking relevant questions along the way.
Take Patricia, for example. Patients like Patricia can benefit from more knowledge about available drugs. Patricia turned down an infusion drug to treat her multiple sclerosis (MS) due to the drug’s high cost and inconvenient administration method.
“I don’t know how people can afford to be sick and still live their lives. So, I opted out. I canceled (the infusion),” she said. “I take it one day at a time and hope … I’m not going to find out when it’s too late that I really should have been on medication.”
The key for providers is to make sure the dialog is open and consistent in order to identify the best holistic treatment for their patients.
An increase in efficiency brought by new technologies
Technology allows providers and their patients to collaborate on choosing the right medication, but solutions also exist to help improve pickup and adherence at the other end of the patient journey. That means a true end-to-end prescription decision support (PDS) solution that takes the pharmacy into account, a particularly helpful feature post-COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the pandemic, patients’ relationships with their pharmacists have changed. Due to the pandemic, 27 percent of patients said they relied more on their pharmacist for information regarding their condition and medication.
In this context, an end-to-end PDS tool presents an opportunity for pharmacists to discuss with their patients topics like payment options, drug manufacturer coupons, copay information and drug information such as interactions and ingestion details.
There’s also a consistency of information across all care team members with an end-to-end PDS tool. Especially as some patients gravitate toward more transactional, less personal forms of care like telehealth, ensuring the pharmacist they trust has access to the same information will allow them to impact the patient’s ability to be adherent and coach them.
As the U.S. enters its second decade of nationally coordinated digital infrastructure for healthcare delivery and to modernize patient care, COVID-19 has demonstrated that this infrastructure is inadequate to respond to public health emergencies.The Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association
Major changes to healthcare IT aren’t going to be simple or fixed overnight, but the long-term benefits are many. Strategy is key. Infrastructure is, too. Making sure patients understand the systems and information contained within is another important move. But perhaps none are as significant as surfacing the data itself.
Overall, these changes are critical — and will make education about all medical information (not just prescription drugs) more accessible and digestible.
Providers will ideally be better able to analyze patient data and make recommendations on time. Patients, in turn, will have increased access to said information and have a more holistic understanding of their prescription drugs.
To learn more about the impact of fully informed prescribing on the pharmaceutical-provider relationship, check out the latest piece of the 2021 Medication Access Report, the Legislative and Regulatory edition.