Where Next For Digital Support Programs?

‘Beyond the pill’ patient support services are set to become a key differentiator for pharma companies, but a new approach is needed



Is the pharma business model broken? How will pharma firms deliver true value and relevance in the years ahead? What is the step change required?

These questions were at the back of my mind when S3 Connected Health and eyeforpharma were working on our joint white paper, Patient Support Programs: Now, Near, Next. We wanted to take the pulse of industry experts on their ‘beyond the pill’ strategy, so we spoke to 20+ senior leaders currently designing and implementing patient support programs (PSPs) from firms including Novartis, AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Takeda.

All are mindful of the wider context; hugely expensive drug development and waning return on investment.

In response, many firms have invested in PSPs to demonstrate added-value and gather real-world evidence. This makes good strategic sense, with payers increasingly wary of the high costs of new drugs.

A new dawn
Some clear themes emerged from the interviews conducted for the white paper:

  • Pharma sees the potential to deliver personalized patient-centric services, but is unclear about how to get there
  • Understanding behaviors is key to engaging and motivating patients
  • To deliver meaningful services you must engage clinicians by understanding their challenges and drivers
  • Pharma must be brave and agile, must move beyond the brand, and invest where ROI cannot be guaranteed.

‘Traditional’ PSPs – typically involving nurse-led call centers using first-generation digital technologies like texts, alerts and emails delivered in a standardized way for small patient populations – are no longer attractive due to their high costs and poor scalability.

However, technological advances mean we can now overcome those barriers. The incredible amounts of data captured from patients’ smartphones and connected devices shifts the challenge from information capture to behavioral factors. How can we deliver support that fits with patients’ everyday lives and their attitudes, beliefs and motivations, at every stage of their patient journey?

By marrying technology and behavioral science, we can deliver truly personalized, intelligent PSPs that respond to individuals’ everyday routines and encourage adherence by appealing to their personal goals and drivers. For example, we have developed sophisticated new platforms that allow patients and their care-givers – clinicians, family, peers – to co-create care plans based on shared information.

Beyond brand
Solutions that focus solely on a brand address only part of the puzzle, plus patients and clinicians will question whether the motive is commercial interests or supporting patients.

A brand-based approach worked when the objective was narrowly focused only on patient access to your drug for reimbursement purposes. But, with most conditions treated by more than one medication, and patients increasingly having multiple conditions, single-brand solutions are just too limited.

The PSPs that lie ahead are likely to leverage pharma companies’ expertise in a specific condition yet be flexible enough to support a broad spectrum of illnesses, adding value to a far larger patient population. Such breadth of service will increasingly become a key differentiator.

Ultimately, as pharma companies transform from drug developers and sellers to end-to-end healthcare companies, success will be defined by patient outcomes. Services will be a central part of the offer.

Courage and entrepreneurship will be essential to develop business models to support this. The alternative is a slow-moving industry overtaken by the tech companies already making aggressive land-grabs for its traditional territory.

Jim O’Donoghue is VP at S3 Connected Health 


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