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The Rise of Empathetic Consumerism in Pharma — and How to Keep Pace

Man reaching for prescription form medicine cabinet

Increasingly empowered consumers, a healthcare worker exodus, and the lasting effects of COVID-19 have all undeniably impacted the pharmaceutical industry. A pharma manufacturer’s traditional role of drug development and marketing has been disrupted by a growing need for high-touch patient engagement throughout therapy. 

The evolution of the patient-provider relationship

The rise of direct-to-consumer advertising and communications initiated a power shift back into consumers’ hands, which naturally extended into the healthcare industry. Patients can now fact-check their doctors, seek outside opinions, and research alternative therapies with a quick online search. 

As this trend grew, the world was hit with COVID-19, and healthcare as we knew it changed. With in-person visits not possible in many cases, providers turned to telehealth, and it stuck. Research from PwC’s Health Research Institute revealed 88% of consumers who used telehealth services during the pandemic for the first time would use it again, and McKinsey studies show that telehealth usage has increased 38 times when compared to before COVID-19. The distance between patient and provider only continued to increase.

These changes also came at a time when the healthcare industry began facing an exodus of providers, leaving a shortage of both skills and experience. Modern Healthcare reports that close to 334,000 providers — including 117,000 doctors — left the workforce in 2021 alone, with many citing burnout and pandemic stress as reasons. Additionally, many healthcare workers are nearing retirement age, suggesting the trend will only continue. 

From a pharma standpoint, fewer providers mean fewer people available to guide patients through the therapeutic process. A lack of information — or misinformation — can make or break patient adherence. And, with the FDA approving new medications at higher rates, doctors have been left to manage more patients, more pharmaceutical instructions, and more medications. Filling this gap is a responsibility that has now fallen on the shoulders of the drug manufacturers themselves.

The pharma gap

Further complicating the situation is a long history of a poor connection between the patient, the provider, and the drug manufacturer. McKinsey research suggests that up to 60% of patients with chronic illnesses either miss medication doses, take the wrong dosage, or prematurely complete treatment in the first year alone. This nonadherence costs the healthcare industry an estimated $290 billion in auxiliary expenses. Additional research indicates three additional points of concern:

  1. With 67% of patients dealing with multimorbidity — two or more chronic conditions existing simultaneously in the same person — any kind of non-adherence can be a life-or-death situation. 
  2. Low patient adherence to therapeutic recommendations is responsible for nearly 50% of treatment failures, 125,000 deaths, and 25% of hospitalizations annually. 
  3. With the elderly population expected to double to 1.5B by 2050, the demand for pharmaceutical support will only grow.

The way forward

In the past, a drug manufacturer was tasked with developing a therapy and putting it out into the market. Now, pharma companies need to communicate directly with patients, altering the role of the provider intermediary of the past. They also need to develop patient solutions that not only build trust and brand equity, but also improve therapeutic adherence and patient success rates.

Need or trend, no matter what you call it, one thing is certain: it’s gaining momentum. According to some reports, life sciences companies are currently investing $14 billion annually into patient engagement solutions acutely designed to:

  • Provide consistent and thorough care
  • Increase drug adherence
  • Boost patient satisfaction

And with an estimated annual growth of 17%, PharmaExec reports that investments in patient services programs are actually outpacing the growth of the healthcare industry itself. According to Strategic Market Research, by 2030, the global patient engagement solutions market in the U.S. is expected to reach $74.28 billion.

A patient-first, empathy-based approach

Here are some tips to help evolve your patient programming to better meet emerging consumer expectations, fill the gap, and achieve desired patient outcomes:

  1. Support patient usage of your products. Provide resources and tools to help patients understand their medication and use it properly. Adopt a more empathy-focused approach to customer care — take the time to really understand your patients’ needs and concerns.
  2. Develop direct-to-patient, care-specific communication materials. For example, care kits specific to a patient’s condition or customized patient timelines can be great ways to provide personalized support. Communications can also cover drug education, patient consent to enroll, insurance coverage, payment support, transportation support, and withdrawal.
  3. Work with a strategic partner to build out consumer-focused programming. An external vendor with deep industry expertise and scale — particularly in areas not considered your core capabilities (e.g., HIPAA-compliant personalized print, product inserts, and direct mail facilitation) — can take on the heavy lifting, allowing you to focus on business objectives.
  4. Evolve ESG policies and messaging to support growing calls for health equity. Consider developing programs to support patient travel, provide funds to help patients of all socioeconomic backgrounds access the therapies they need, lessen the burden of chronic illness, and provide robust adherence support.
  5. Evaluate out-of-the-box modalities to improve adherence. For example, a recent Accenture report noted a program providing asthma patients with an inhaler sensor and GPS tracking helped patients avoid triggers from their surrounding environment. Utilizing this programming, patients experienced a 48% increase of symptom-free days and used their inhalers 78% less.

Do your future plans include comprehensive patient services?

In response to an evolving healthcare landscape, pharmaceutical companies need to be increasingly focused on empathetic customer service and patient engagement. Investing in ways to better meet patient and caregiver needs and adapting to demands for health equity are the path to continued success.

 

Frank Costello is the Market Development Leader for RRD Life Sciences.