April 2, 2020

COVID-19 and Its Impact on Patient Support Programs

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COVID-19 has upended our healthcare system and thrust pharmaceutical product patient support programs (PSPs) onto the front lines of treatment management. In light of the pandemic and its impact on the system, PSPs should be going beyond the typical operations of access and reimbursement. Through PSPs, pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to both patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs) by ensuring that clear and relevant information is easily available.

As face-to-face access to HCPs becomes more limited, PSP call volume is increasing. Patients are uncertain about the implications of COVID-19 on their current treatment, coordination of refills for home delivery, or affordability issues due to recent loss of income or health coverage. Patients and caregivers may also be concerned about traveling for HCP-administered injections, or the impact on at-home nursing and nurse training. Without the right information and guidance, fearful patients may turn to the internet for information that may be misleading or plainly incorrect.

Unfortunately, many PSPs are not currently equipped to address the new realities presented by COVID-19.

Content & Training: Staff may not be trained on new COVID-19-specific questions or have access to appropriate educational resources, for example:

  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): The facilitation of enrollment may need to evolve, i.e., when traditional communication methods like fax and in-person signatures are not available.
  • Technology Triage: PSPs are unlikely to be equipped with alternative ways of communicating like chatbots or webcasts.
  • Internal Clarity: Internally, many pharma companies are wrestling with a lack of clarity about who leads COVID-19 outreach and response — should it be the product marketing teams, or the centralized PSP teams, or some combination?

Companies should shift from being reactive to proactive by considering how PSPs can add value in a landscape already cluttered with information, and how SOPs and internal processes can be adapted to proactively meet the urgent need to provide timely information to patients.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a catalyst for PSPs to transition from cost centers to value providers, and pharma marketers must rise to the challenge, add value, and grow.


Anchor Your Approach in Customer Needs
Begin developing a response plan by homing in on what your patients and HCPs need right now while simultaneously initiating a broader assessment and developing a long-term plan. Your organization’s response won’t be a single, silver-bullet communication plan. Rather, it will require flexibility, adaptability, and ongoing assessment of changes in patient needs across the marketplace.

Act Now
It is important not to get stuck in analysis paralysis while the need is so urgent.

  • Make the most of resources that already exist. Adopt approved corporate and/or brand statements and include links to them on your PSP home page and/or in email communications. Consider updating your website with a simple “violator” or banner-type communication to expedite approval and launch of your new messaging.
  • Listen. Schedule a standing daily or weekly call to understand what questions PSP staff are already hearing on the front lines from patients and HCPs. This information can help craft responses and train PSP staff moving forward.
  • Adjust SOPs and call scripts to help PSP staff address questions immediately by simply customizing approved corporate and brand communication.
  • Leverage relationships that trusted nurse educators and other PSP outreach staff have with high-risk patients to deliver information through tailored, timely dialogue.
  • Stay focused. Keep content specific to your product and category, and link to specific COVID-19 guidelines and precautions.

Initiate an assessment to power a value-added response plan moving forward. By approaching the assessment through multiple lenses — i.e., current or planned communication, needs assessments and journey mapping, and multiple stakeholder audiences — you can create the greatest value for your audiences.

Needs Assignment Grid

Adapt & Overcome
Content and Staff Training: Short- and Long-Term Actions
PSP staff may be bombarded with completely new questions specific to the implications of COVID-19 on current treatment — all while working remotely — and may not have access to peers and mentors to help them in these difficult times. Cataloging patient questions and best-practice examples can help guide staff training, provide direction for future content development, and be the basis for a patient-services-authored FAQ for distribution and staff training. Over the long term, develop virtual training for PSP staff to help them quickly get up to speed as things continue to evolve.

Use Technology to Augment PSP Staff and Elevate the Prominence/Visibility of Your PSP’s Offerings
You can help manage increased volume by posting and elevating online FAQs across appropriate social channels and on your brand.com website. Consider implementing online patient education and support, virtual guides, and social media messaging to help patients locate answers. Featuring a weekly “Top 5 Q&A” across multiple channels can bolster PSP value over time. And don’t forget to include a call to action with COVID-19 messaging about signing up for your PSP to stay up to date on the latest news and information from your brand regarding treatment.

In the last 2 weeks, there have been over 210K mentions on the popular hashtag #HighRiskCovid19 — from patients with compromised immune systems, as well as 207K mentions including “Patient Support” — a 3x increase from the expected norm.

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Marketing automation can also assist in scaling volume while containing program costs. Consider proactive CRM streams, a robust repository of interactive content, and chatbots that link to resource libraries. Consult with your hub service provider regarding expanded capabilities.

Adjudication of Insurance Certification and Claims
Recent estimations show the United States may be facing 35% unemployment, which will impact insurance coverage and patient access. At the same time, many specialty offices have furloughed office staff or seen their nurses redeployed to triage COVID-19 patients, which will slow processing. PSPs must be prepared to be the front line for access-related questions. Some insurance providers like Cigna, Humana, and Aetna are announcing waivers for patient cost-sharing on treatment for COVID-19. Stay up to date and provide information on which companies are offering waivers. Where appropriate, consider “at risk” shipment of specialty pharmacy products to ensure timely initiation of critical therapy and adherence. Going a step further, Eli Lilly is running ads speaking directly to people who have lost their insurance coverage, directing them to the Lilly Diabetes Solution Center to help guide access.

Ease Program Enrollment Hurdles
Now may be the ideal time to revisit the use of digital signatures with Legal and Regulatory colleagues. Remember: this is the time when patients are looking for credible sources of information about the product, and the PSP can offer it.

Be Human. Be Helpful.

  • Address the seriousness of your customers’ concerns.
  • Reinforce your brand’s commitment to supporting patient safety.
  • Guide audiences to the most up-to-date materials, including select credible third-party resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic.
  • Realize that increasingly, patients are relying on telemedicine for communication with their HCPs.
  • Acknowledge the dynamic, quickly evolving understanding of the COVID-19 virus and its implications on patients’ treatment protocols.

Be Specific

  • If a patient’s condition or treatment increases their risk for COVID-19, refer them to their HCP.
  • Address long-term access to medicines and outline what patients can do to ensure they have what they need.

Now, more than ever, PSPs are playing an integral role in maintaining connections between pharmaceutical manufacturers and those looking for reliable information about medications and treatment options, regardless of the channels they use to engage with the brand or PSP. By elevating the role PSPs were created to serve and establishing themselves as trusted resources through the COVID-19 crisis, not only will PSPs deliver expanded value to patients, they can expand enrollment in the process.

©Intouch Group 2020 Authors: Peter Weissberg, VP, Market Access; Camille Lauer, VP, Strategic Planning; Mike Motto, SVP, Market Access; Angela Tenuta, EVP; Boris Kushkuley, EVP