6 Lessons Learned While Simplifying the Specialty Patient Experience

If you orbit anywhere in the specialty pharma space, this won’t come as a newsflash: the specialty patient journey is mind-numbingly complex.

We all lament the obstacles of patient onboarding and adherence. A great many talented minds continue to innovate like crazy to address these issues – us included (more on that in a minute). Legions of us are blazing digital trails in specialty pharma. 

Here’s the catch-22: while many technologies for specialty pharma are designed to improve the patient experience, they often end up further complicating that experience in the process. 

With all of these gifted chefs in the digital kitchen, the soup is at risk of spoiling. 

And in this case, the “soup” is the patients. 

Owning mistakes is the essence of agile

Rare is the digital “chef” who exposes their own mistakes. You hope the customer doesn’t notice that the filet she requested medium-rare is actually medium, or that you ran out of shiitake mushrooms and replaced them with creminis.     

But when it comes to technology innovation, learning from mistakes is how companies adapt and compete. The whole field of agile development is premised on the idea of constant evaluation, collaboration, and response. Dialogue around improvement is essential to survival. 

This mindset is especially critical with healthcare technology innovations, which are bumping into other innovations in an ecosystem –  healthcare  – that itself is rapidly evolving. Amidst this brave new world, the practical needs of patients themselves can get lost. 

Knitting together this sprawling constellation of innovation can mean the difference between a great and a painful experience for patients. 

That’s where we come in. We’re the knitters.

So let us be that rare vendor that gives it to you straight. We’re willing to be vulnerable because we think that therein lies our strength. It’s what helps us improve the lives of patients.

We want to reflect on what we’ve done wrong, so that next time we can work together to do it better. We’re committed to radical honesty and transparency so that we can be a better partner, provider, and patient advocate.

Radical transparency in action

First, a bit about who we are.

We’re a mobile platform that collaborates with partners to simplify the specialty patient experience across a wide range of therapies. 

Our top priority is to provide patients with a private, secure experience that fits their individual lives. By working closely with specialty pharma brands, patient hubs, patient support programs, specialty pharmacies, and other healthcare partners, we simplify the specialty patient journey through onboarding and beyond. 

Or at least that’s what we try to do. 

Simplicity is the goal. But that means that we need to unravel the maze of actions and messages that often keep patients from a successful experience with their specialty medications. 

And, we’ll be honest; sometimes, we get lost in the maze, too.

So let’s dissect an experience that we had navigating one such maze. 

Specifically, we launched a program with a major pharma company to deliver mobile onboarding and a rewards program for the patients of one of its medications. The goal was to streamline patient support on mobile, drive rewards program utilization, increase onboarding to treatment, and optimize patient education content.. 

The program was exciting for us because it involved multiple integration partners and extensive coordination. But the exciting aspects also presented Olympian challenges.

Over the course of the extended project planning, the scope of the rewards program shifted. Various vendor partners – some of whom were not skilled at integrating with other tech experiences – drifted in and out of the picture. In the end, compliance feedback from the client’s legal department required changes to the program that other vendors could not adapt to, delaying the launch of the platform. We’re currently working with the client to iterate to a new program architecture that includes a new vendor. 

That said, we consider this project a success. 

The HelpAround platform, as framed by the original statement of work and subsequent change orders, is ready. End-to-end testing was successfully conducted asynchronously with all of the technical integration vendors. And, perhaps most importantly, we learned from  this successful effort.

About that learning. Let’s jump straight to the embarrassing part. 

Here are the 5 mistakes we made:

  1. We could have been better with our integration partner work. For example, we could have insisted that our technical contacts – not just project managers – participated throughout the project.
  2. We could have improved SOW clarity and appropriate change request responses. This would have saved us a lot of confusion and miscommunication down the line.
  3. We could have been better at leveraging our clients to “light fires” under integration partners to move forward. In other words, we may have been a little too passive and polite.
  4. We realized how significantly a lack of clarity with integration partners can torpedo our efforts. If our integration partners fail, the program fails and the patient is again left to the status quos.
  5. We realized that we need better vendor cooperation from the get-go. If we’re rowing in different directions, the boat goes nowhere.

The good news is that we got a lot of things right. 

We championed the patient experience across multiple partners to achieve the best experience possible. And the result has been that:

  1. The client has given us direct feedback that we’re a great partner.
  2. We shifted communication early on with the client to be more proactive, with HelpAround leading.  
  3. Overall, despite our mistakes, the project was well-coordinated and well-planned. 
  4. The team confidently dealt with challenges in a manner that satisfied the client.
  5. Internal communications between the HelpAround teams improved significantly over the course of the project.

If you’re going to grow from your mistakes, you need to learn your lessons. So…   

Here are the 6 lessons we learned:

  1. SOW: tighter guardrails. Next time, we need better internal sign-off processes to ensure alignment internally and externally.
  2. We need to understand the value for the integration partner. If we want them rowing with us, we need to secure early engagement of the account manager/sales exec to recruit our champion internally.
  3. We need to better define what integration options we can support and keep to the agreed timeline.
  4. We need to create a change process for when we need to update the work engagement with other vendors during integration.
  5. We need to better own the patient experience and create a universal project plan that is shared with all stakeholders. 
  6. Each vendor integration requires a risk evaluation – ideally within the statement of work.

Patients first, last, always

We build every service with patients at the forefront. It’s why we exist. 

That  patient-centric mentality isn’t always easy to sustain amidst a fog of confusion. But this project reinforced some core principles for us. 

We’re learning from partners and silos, and then tying everything together so that the benefits of all of these solutions serve the patient. We’re failing fast, pivoting, and trying again because we know that the process raises the game and ultimately helps patients.

Our big takeaway from this particular engagement was that maintaining the focus on patients was tough, but still achievable. No matter how deep the maze, patients will always be our north star.  

Collaboration and integrations are now just a part of doing business in the new frontier of patient services. No matter what your role is in the specialty pharma space, we all need to work together to create a better patient experience. If you’re not clear-eyed about what’s broken with your solution, you can’t fix the problems.

We’re not perfect. 

Neither are you. 

Let’s get to work.