Apple’s Gift for Specialty Brands

by Yishai Knobel,

Apple just announced a new horizon for health apps: a Health Records API. This move is a breakthrough for patient-centered health management, in general; and specifically for people on specialty regimens, this may be a game changer.

What did Apple announce exactly?

At the start of 2018, Apple updated its Health App to centralize patients’ medical data from multiple providers into a single view on their iPhone. Now they have announced a new API that builds on this, allowing patients to share their personal health data with their favorite health apps. Apple hopes developers and researchers will “create an ecosystem of apps that use health record data to better manage medications, nutrition plans, diagnosed diseases and more.”

With the patient’s iPhone as the focal point for integration, an opportunity arises for anyone offering patient services through mobile to provide even more patient-centric services. In a sense, each patient’s iPhone becomes a personal data center and patients can now give apps different levels of access to their EHR (more on the benefits of personal data in pharma here)

Some specialty brands can win big

So what is the opportunity for specialty brands?

Specialty brands almost always accompany their drug launches with patient support programs, often administered by patient hubs, to support patients along their journey. These programs help patients with deal with insurance coverage, on-boarding to the new treatment and adherence to the therapy.

It’s all in the data

But while striving to support patients, brands and hubs are typically flying blind when it comes to tracking each patient along their personal journey. We already see hubs starting to invest in tools to help better harness patient data, yet actionable patient data throughout the patient journey and in real-time is still a major gap.

Leveraging Apple’s new capability, specialty brands can now expect hubs to know when patients reach critical milestones along their journey. How? By deploying existing patient support programs on mobile data platforms that integrate with Apple’s new EHR capability (see below to learn more on Helparound’s mobile patient intelligence).

What patient milestones can hubs identify given access to a patient’s EHR?

  1. Medicine prescribed: Prescription logs are almost always part of the patient’s record.  Thus once a drug is prescribed, data platforms know it and so can the brand’s hub (provided, of course, that the patient agreed to share such data);
  2. Lab tests available: Many specialty drugs, e.g. biologics or those that the FDA requires a REMS protocol involve a qualifying lab test before the doctor can prescribe them. With the EHR now on the iPhone, and with the patient choosing to automatically share such information with the hub, the case manager can now be notified once a patient has conducted the test (which happens to be good timing to send the patient back to the doctor to review the lab test results)
  3. Dosage change: A hub can also adjust it’s engagement pattern with the patient knowing based on change of dosage or therapy regimen per the iPhone data.

Data privacy done right

Not only is this new API great for patients, hubs and brands, but regulators and legal teams should also be delighted with the trend of turning a patient’s personal phone into their patient data hub. Data sharing decisions are put directly in the patient’s hands; all stakeholders benefit from the ease of sharing data while optimally ensuring privacy.

Data integration done right

Say the term “EHR integration” in a team meeting, and half the room cringes… because the fragmentation, complexity and sensitivity of EHR systems is at an all time high.  

Good news IT folks!  A new integration platform has arrived, and it’s slick, simple, and free! (at least for your organization). Please meet: the iPhone. Oh, and every iPhone comes with a built-in decision maker on which integrations are allowed to take place. Please meet: the patient.

Apple did it again. Just like what the iPod did to Music, and Apple Pay did to payments, it introduced simplicity into a sensitive, convoluted challenge, by giving control back to the consumer.

And specialty brands?  They can win here by gaining visibility into the patient journey, by deploying their patient support programs on mobile platforms that empower patients to first own and then share their personal health data with the organizations that help them the most.



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Specialty Pharma Can Learn From Tinder – Part 2

by Yishai Knobel,

In the previous segment of this article, we shared our excitement over Helparound’s recent patent for its novel matchmaking technology to connect patients through our mobile intelligence platform. Companies like Tinder and LinkedIn brought matchmaking to dating and job seeking – it only makes sense that such technologies would also help people dealing with health issues.

In specialty therapeutics jargon, the steps of getting on new therapies are referred to as: Access, Activation and Adherence. Here in part 2, we dig into how matchmaking technology can support each of these steps.  

Therapy Access

Following the initial shock of a life-changing diagnosis, one of the first questions to arise is: how will I pay for this?  Especially in the U.S., almost regardless of one’s insurance, specialty therapies are costly. Insurance plans have various coverage rules and, quite often for specialty treatments, there are numerous patient assistance programs from manufacturers, non-profits and other sources.

Finding an individual who lives in the same state, is the same gender, age group and even employment status, can help bring order to the mess of coverage options for a particular therapy or treatment. Instead of extensive hours of Internet research, waiting on hold for the Medicare call center or researching a specific plan – instead of reinventing the wheel each time – pose the question to people who have gone through the same experience. Sharing information about access complexities can be both a time saver and a helpful support system to relieve the financial stress of a new diagnosis.

Activation (aka on-boarding)

Hand-in-hand with treatment access issues comes the hurdle of on-boarding the treatment itself. Such a diagnosis is overwhelming enough for the entire family; now the patient and caregiver are expected to begin self-administering injections, IV, or even dialysis.  Further, paying attention to a nurse on a home-visit showing how to administer the treatment, or even just sitting down and carefully reading a patient starter-kit, can be a major hurdle in such emotional state. The starter kit also lacks an interactive aspect for continued engagement as questions arise, which they inevitably will as one gets going with treatment.

Again, this is where patient matching can shine.  For example, take kidney failure patients, who typically dialyze in clinics multiple times a week, but may also be able to do so at home, using home dialysis.  This therapy has many advantages: time, freedom, the ability to dialyze more often without an appointment or over night. However, the responsibility for carrying out this medical procedure lies with the patient and his/her caretaker, an intense commitment for both, often simply because self-insertion of needles without medical supervision can be super overwhelming.

Many resources can help a patient transition from in-clinic to home dialysis: educational content, remote support, videos, etc. But as much evidence has shown, matching patients who are dealing with similar challenges – or better yet have already solved the issue in the past – is “a critical and effective strategy for ongoing health care and sustained behavior change”. Home dialysis is no different: connecting with another patient who went through a similar transition, can make a big a difference.

As we mentioned in part I of this article, matchmaking does not alleviate the challenges or worries that come along with a new diagnosis or treatment, but it can ease the anxieties that accompany it. In this age of technology, peer matching won’t alleviate a condition but it can hopefully connect people to make treatment activation a bit less daunting and relieve some of the lonely and overwhelmed feelings that accompany a diagnosis.


Always the trickiest aspect of a complex treatment, especially with specialty therapies, treatment adherence may be the arena where matchmaking technology can have the most impact. While there are a variety of dynamics that lead to nonadherence – ranging from forgetting to take medication and lack of symptoms to cost pressure or insurance paperwork – ~$300B is spent each year dealing with the problem of people not sticking to their treatment regimen.

Sticking with any regimen can be a challenge – if you know it’s going to continue for a long time, even a lifetime in many cases, it can be even more daunting. High-touch therapies are often accompanied by patient support programs executed by specialty hubs or pharmacies, which currently rely mostly on nurse call centers and monthly check-ins. While these connections are important, it is not likely to address some of the most common reasons for drop-off, including forgetting a dose or feeling better due to the medication. Similar to having a workout buddy with whom you share goals, commit to the workout regimen and encourage each other when it gets touch – having a treatment buddy with the same goals can lead to better treatment adherence.

Mobile Patient Intelligence

At helparound, we developed a novel algorithmic method to match patients to each other to provide peer help and support based on similar medical circumstances. Helparound was awarded a patent in 2017 for our unique method of connecting patients to each other. Combined with additional resources offered through our Mobile Patient Intelligence platform, though no technology makes the condition disappear, Helparound is here to transform families’ navigation  a life-changing diagnosis.

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Online personal data will be a boon for patient support

by Shlomi Aflalo,

“Behavioral targeting” is the marketer’s term for techniques to increase the effectiveness of online publishing and advertising with deep user data. Facebook has dominated the news recently because of behavioral targeting driven by its data management policies. Yet for many users, Amazon’s Alexa eavesdrops on us 24/7 and she’s perceived as “part of the family.” Both Facebook and Alexa use similar techniques to learn about our preferences, yet it feels different depending on how the data is being used. So the issue of behavioral targeting is not defined by the practice itself, but the uses to which it is put.

Most of us notice that internet ads appear as though they’re following us. Perhaps there’s an ad for a clothing store where you were recently shopping. Or there’s an ad for a new degree program that is strikingly similar to an institution you were just looking into. Quite often these ads are appealing – those are the times when such behavioral targeting (and re-targeting) are doing its job well.

In specialty pharma, behavioral targeting has the potential to significantly help patients via better patient services, as well as create value for hubs and manufacturers. The key is active use of smartphones (which is more and more common among the general public) and/or online activities, and access to user’s data habits in any of these media.

Understanding the mechanics of targeting
To understand how behavioral targeting can augment specialty patient services, let’s look at the bread and butter of behavioral targeting: implicit data. Users leave a crumbtrail of passive data that advertisers leverage to catalog users’ interests. For example, the articles users recently read shed light on current interests; connections reveal people we relate to; and fans can be identified by watching a particular sport or playing a video game.

Data about how a user consumes content is also highly informative: at what time of day someone reads about a particular subject, where they get groceries, which device they use – mobile or desktop. Of course, geographic data based on smartphone location throughout the day can also be collected, since people take their phones everywhere. Using these insights, computer algorithms analyze how to segment people and optimize advertising, to continuously improve content delivery to each particular user.

Using behavioral targeting responsibly
So how can this data help patients and their families navigate life after a diagnosis? The patient journey metaphor meshes well with behavioral targeting, as throughout any journey there are ups and downs, smooth and easy moments as well as various questions. This implicit data can be used to understand a person’s needs at a particular juncture in the journey in an effort to smooth the way. This is relevant for all conditions, both in specialty pharma sectors and mass market.

We can gather data points to figure out important health indicators such as when someone goes to work or comes home, when and where a treatment takes place, is someone sleeping enough or not getting exercise. This can be done by platforms like Neura, an AI-driven user awareness platform that utilizes smartphone signals along with WiFi and Bluetooth signals to get to know each user. This information feeds into platforms like Helparound (a technology partner of Neura) to gain insights used to achieve two goals: (1) reduce the burden on patients and their caregivers directly, and (2) help hubs better time their outreach to patients. Systems can also send timely reminders to schedule doctor appointments or ask if a ride to a treatment is needed, calculating potential traffic on the way and suggesting the best time to leave; or to notify that a nearby pharmacy now accepts the user’s insurance.

Changes in behavior may signal therapy disruptions, which can have a negative impact on patient outcomes. By understanding and predicting what is happening in the patient’s physical world, behavioral targeting can help detect that a patient is travelling and unavailable to pick up their prescription refill – allowing a specialty pharmacy to customize patient engagement. Any change in routine can be identified, allowing the power of behavioral targeting to work its magic. Additionally, those patients who want the benefit of reaching out to others experiencing a similar situation can take advantage of a platform like Helparound to connect with others.

Specialty pharma applications
In summary, behavioral targeting can both optimize a patient’s experience and enrich hub’s understanding of its patients.

In our new reality where data is collected all day, everyday, we see the value of behavioral targeting as well as the complexity of data management. Fortunately, in the healthcare sector, HIPAA exists to guard our privacy. So although recent headlines may cause concern about data gathering, we believe these technologies can be successfully used to help patients, their caregivers and the hubs that serve them. By offering content for patients and caregivers, bringing up useful services at the right moment, and acting just when a patient might need a bit of extra TLC, the entire specialty health ecosystem can transform the healthcare experience.

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Specialty Pharma Can Learn from Tinder – Part I

by Yishai Knobel,

You’re at the doctor’s office, just after learning that you or your loved one has a disease you’ve never heard of. The doctor says it’s not a death sentence but in the same breath describes an overwhelming regimen of lab tests, weekly injections, nutritional guidelines and pills with scary names. Your mind is flooded: What is this? How will I pay for it? What will happen to my family? What will my friends say? How will we treat it? What will I have to change? Who can possibly understand what I am going through?

Now imagine you can pick up your smartphone, and swipe to find five other people around your age, maybe even from your city or state, who have been living with the same disease for quite some time. They can’t make the disease go away and it still sucks, but they’ve offered to lend a hand – or a shoulder to cry on – that might make dealing with it easier. Meet Jane, her daughter was born with a rare condition and she can offer insights on a helpful exercise routine or diet tips. Or perhaps Anne is a better fit – she was recently diagnosed and has already tried a number of treatments about which she has many opinions.

Companies like Uber, Tinder and LinkedIn have brought “matchmaking” technologies to dating, job hunting, networking and ride-sharing. It is convenient, instantaneous, feels personal and can be so effective that couples get married after “the internet introduced them”. So it only makes sense that such technologies may also benefit in a situation like the above, in the lobby of the doctor’s office, flooded with questions.

In the specialty health sphere, on top of sending shockwaves through the lives of the entire family, and overwhelming the daily routine with notoriously complex specialty , a new diagnosis also may bring extreme loneliness upon the individual, a result of the small size of many patient populations. In such small patient groups, the impact of successful matchmaking can make the difference between desperation and hope.

This is why we are so excited by the patent Helparound was recently granted, for our unique algorithm for matching patients with similar others. Matchmaking can be so important in helping an individual navigate through tricky insurance issues, getting used to a new, complex treatment, accessing new treatments if necessary and, most important, staying motivated. Or in our industry jargon, patient matchmaking technologies may help drive therapy Access, Activation and Adherence.

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Why I Joined this Team: Help in the Tough Moments

by Lindsay Tauber,

November 2016: I just left a routine ultrasound in week 15 of pregnancy, told that my son has a bilateral cleft lip. I’m devastated and my initial web search yields this fact: 85% of the time, it is a physical manifestation and can be surgically repaired; 15% it is one expression of a terrible chromosomal syndrome. I would now face 5-6 weeks of tests, none of which I had planned on or knew much about. I left the medical center and began researching everything I could about all the syndromes, the tests and their risks, cleft lip treatments, surgical techniques. I read hundreds of websites, some valuable and some less so. I would spend the next 6 weeks anxiously awaiting a barrage of test results; once I knew that it was not a chromosomal issue, I would spend the rest of pregnancy having more regular tests and ultrasounds than I had during the previous pregnancy, waiting to see how this would all go for us.

I joined the helparound team because I connect personally to our mission to support families facing life-changing diagnoses. When I first began discussing the opportunity with Yishai in August 2017, I had just come off of almost a year of navigating the diagnosis, treatment and surgical repair of my second son’s cleft lip. Though not a chronic condition, I identified with the issues we discussed addressing: dealing with a diagnosis, learning about a condition, navigating a complex treatment regimen, preparing for a new unknown reality.

I initially met Yishai and Shlomi a few years ago while working for a massive pharmaceutical company’s digital accelerator. We were in close touch with them and I watched as helparound iterated beyond the diabetes community to its new goal: provide stellar mobile support to small patient populations. I was impressed by many things, but two qualities stood out in particular: their dedication to helping people and their understanding of the possibilities for technology to make people’s lives easier.

April 2017: Oliver was born. As soon as I saw him, my anxiety melted away and I was enamored… and also realized that being a mother to this little guy would just be a bit more complex than my previous experience. I met with the surgeon and periodontist within a day of his birth to begin preparation for surgery. The brilliance of treating a cleft lip is they utilize the natural high speed growth of babies to close the cleft and improve surgical outcomes; in our case this would involve taping and an “outfitted” oxygen tube that would help shape his nose. We would be responsible for changing and cleaning all this twice daily. The next 4.5 months until surgery would be a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, calculated weight gain, blood tests and so on. My research regimen continued and I learned everything I could about any potential side effects of his cleft, what preventive checks I must ensure he has, how to double feed him so he gained enough to have surgery at such a young age. I spent those months organizing my son’s reality around the success of his surgery. Time passed, he grew, we got through everything and the surgery was a glowing success. We will maintain a light schedule of check-ups for the next few years and life has returned to its rhythm.

Sitting across the table from Yishai in August 2017 talking about the navigation of complex treatments for chronic diseases, I felt connected to the idea that these people need mobile support. I did everything on my phone with Oliver, from research to setting appointments to ordering taxis, but I used a combination of apps that I found to serve my needs. Easily finding information on a disease in the initial shock following a diagnosis or the ability to ask others with the same experience questions at any time is an invaluable resource, especially on your phone as you rush to to the next appointment or test. Knowing you have a comprehensive resource and a peer community can make the whole picture seem less daunting. As we began brainstorming more possibilities this mobile support platform could potentially offer, it was blatantly obvious that this is the way I want to spend my workday: making it easier for mothers* to navigate their children’s treatment.

*Disclaimer: Of course I want to make it easier for all caregivers, but in that moment I have to be honest that as a mother I thought about the mothers.

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In Specialty Pharma, a Sleeping Bear is Waking Up to Digital

by Yishai Knobel,

Pop quiz: who picks up the phone when you call a Pharma’s Patient Support Program? Hint: it’s usually not the Pharma itself.

Here at Helparound, we focus on the challenges a life-changing diagnosis brings upon individuals and their families, when an entire family’s life is turned upside down by the news of a disease to manage, and thrown into a whirlpool of Providers, Payers and Pharmacies to navigate their new reality. Yet one massive stakeholder in the newly diagnosed patient’s world is struggling to reach them: the Patient Hub, the therapy manufacturer’s patient-services proxy.

Because regulation blocks Pharmas from talking directly to patients – but specialty therapies, frequently biologics, require guidance and patient services so treatment regimens are carried out correctly and safely – Patient Hubs are the intrinsic patient communication arm for the Pharma. Hubs are an extremely important piece of the puzzle for people dealing with chronic disease and high burden therapy, yet many people don’t even know they exist or what they can do to help.

Speaking to numerous Hubs, we found that while other patient-facing players, e.g. providers, have been adopting patient engagement technologies , Hubs mainly work through traditional CRM systems and call centers. Hubs offer wonderful “wrap-around” services to patients by staffing their call centers with credentialed nurses and pharmacists, according to the 2017 Hub Services Report (Pharmaceutical Commerce). But there are many ways to support patients beyond their bi-weekly or monthly call from the nurse. (Full disclosure: Helparound fills the gaps between these calls through mobile:

Hubs are projected to support a $165B industry of specialty therapies in 2018. Specialty therapies accounted for 28% of the pharmacy industry’s prescription dispensing revenues in 2016 according to Drug Channel. With the current expansion of specialty treatments, this percentage is projected to grow to 42% by 2021. Yet today only 19% of patients are even aware of Hub Services (Accenture). Patients should know there are support channels available to them – and It’s time to bring this indispensable aspect of the patient communication chain to a mobile, patient-friendly platform.

About Helparound: We believe families facing a life changing conditions need more than an online brochure and a monthly phone call from a nurse. Helparound is activating the Hub-revolution: to extend patient Hub services through a highly personalized mobile platform, to deliver the support these families deserve.

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6 Patient Support Rules-of-Thumb for Pharma Marketers

by Yishai Knobel,

Recent Deloitte Review on patient services paints a clear picture on patient services by Pharmas:  70% of surveyed life science executives indicated that their organizations were moderately/somewhat ready to implement effective patient engagement strategies, and more than half (55%) felt they needed to be “extremely ready” in the next two years.

And indeed, some initial efforts by pharma companies have emerged around it:  Biogen’s Above MS, Genzyme’s MS One to One, AstraZeneca’s AZ & Me clinical education and prescription savings programs and Abbvie’s Humira Complete support program for all of Humira’s autoimmune indications.

Such patient services span many different aspects of the patient’s life, but Deloitte highlights the following key needs to address in patient services: Financial, Clinical, Engagement, Therapy, and Education.  That said, in conversations with our pharma partners at HelpAround,  we often see good ideas running into unnecessary user-experience pitfalls.

So we set to summarize these conversations into 6 patient support rules of thumb, regardless of therapeutic area.

And here it goes:

  1. Frequent – securing recurring slots in your patients’ attention is one of the most challenging tasks nowadays.  However, marketing a therapy for a chronic condition has the “benefit” that the patient has already allotted a mental slot to squeeze into.   The more frequent your services are used, the stronger the connection you would build with the patient.  The task for frequent usage medication is easier than for bi-weekly injections for instance, but the latter has a greenfield of opportunity in between.
  2. Timely – just like an effective push notifications on your smartphone, patient services need to be timely.  Does taking your therapy require travel?  call them an Uber;  does it require fasting?  find them a breakfast spot for the morning.
  3. Personalized – consumers have zero tolerance to copy-paste offerings.  The personalization bar is incredibly high and requires an effort to personalize service offerings.  Age, sex, behavioral profile:  all these are available today by companies like HelpAround, Neura, Medisafe, HelloHeart and more;  don’t ignore them.
  4. Actionable – a patient service that is not actionable leaves the patient in passive mode.   Ask the patient to claim the offered service.   They’d appreciate it more if they “worked” for it.
  5. Bold – patient services is where brand teams can go really wild.  Look at the patient journey that you have developed, and find friction points to alleviate.   Is it prescription refills?  a free Uber ride to the clinic?  what else?
  6. Consistent with your message – living life to the fullest,  sense of security, etc. – you have already positioned your therapy in your DtC communication.   If it has worked well, then your patient service offering should be consistent with your message.  If it’s about lifestyle, then offer lifestyle services;  if simplicity – find ways to make their life easier, etc.


What are some of the effective (or ineffective) patient support strategies you have seen out there? 

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