HelpAround’s CEO, Yishai Knobel recently sat down with Bil Daniels, Leo Pharma’s Director of Patient Support and Reimbursement for the HelpAround’s Specialty Patient Podcast. With over a decade managing pharmaceutical reimbursement and access programs across half a dozen companies, Bil brings an experienced perspective on where the industry has been and where it is headed. Today’s conversation was focused around the intersection between the specialty patient and technology; where it works well, where it does not, and how COVID-19 has changed the industry. We have listed some key takeaways below, but as always, if you are interested in the full conversation, you can find it here.
1. Patient Support has been “technologically” lagging behind where it should be.
From Bil’s perspective, Healthcare, and patient support services specifically, has always lagged behind how we expect the rest of society to use technology. Rather than pretending healthcare is a singularly unique case, we need to look to and learn from other industries and leveraging these technological advances to better serve our patients. For example, why should a patient be required to communicate with their Specialty Pharmacy only via fax when they can call, text, email, or chat with a vendor on Amazon.
While COVID-19 was very unfortunate, a potential upside was that it forced many organizations to adopt technology that was previously seen as too much of a change or too high of a risk. Especially as in-person interactions became impossible, the move to text- and video-messaging has been able to bridge a gap that would have been previously impossible.
2. There is a disconnect between the advances in patient support systems and support to actual patients.
Over the past few years it is undeniable that we have implemented new programs and refocused to better serve our specialty patient population. In spite of this, recent studies show that patient awareness of patient support programs has actually decreased (from 19% down to 14%) over the same period. The original number was unacceptable, but to see it actually decline in spite of the investment being made indicates that there is a serious deficiency somewhere in our current systems. A key area of friction is regulation, mostly because change makes people nervous. However, there is absolutely a way to make the connection between the various partners (HUB and pharmacy or NCO and SP) more seamless in a compliant manner.
3. Drug Manufacturers are becoming more flexible (and more patient-centric).
The previous model for drug manufacturers was that they had this very important product that could be transformative to a patient and therefore everyone should adapt to their system and their specific journey. However, it has become increasingly clear that this preferred patient journey or “happy path” was actually just the best path for the manufacturer and helped them get what they wanted/needed out of the situation without prioritizing the patient. Now that there is access to all this new information about the patients, it is imperative that we digest this data and figure out what the patient actually needs. There is not one happy path, but probably four or six paths per drug and we need to do a better job understanding that this is a dynamic situation and allow the flexibility to support patients as they move through these more complicated therapy journeys.
4. Patient support is refocusing more on the necessity of support staff and a human connection.
Beyond the increased support given to the primary service providers, there has also been a huge shift towards the use of Field Reimbursement teams. Unlike traditional sales reps, these Field Reimbursement Managers (FRMs) are specifically tasked with being specialists who support the office staff in understanding the patient access journey and management for these complex therapies. Over the past 5 years, the standard deployment has shifted from 5-10 reps for the entire country to a 2:1 ratio of field access staff to sales reps. Even when in-person visits were eliminated or heavily curtailed, FRMs were still used on a daily basis through telephone or digital communications. While there is certainly a limit to the number of physicians and patients for a single FRM, the increased use of virtual communication allows us far more reach than we had before. HelpAround’s vendor agnostic integration platform further enables FRMs to support and engage with patients wherever they are—allowing them to provide a high level of support regardless of if they follow the traditional patient journey or the long tail of “non-happy path.”
As we look towards the remainder of 2021 and the post-pandemic world, the only certainty seems to be that change is coming. However, as the famous french writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once wrote “the more things change, the more things stay the same;” whether we are using a telephone, a zoom call, or an in-person visit, the world of patient support will still revolve around helping patients obtain and succeed in their therapies. And HelpAround will be here to make those connections happen.