Digital Engagement in Pharma: Staying Ahead of Patient Needs to Shape Better Outcomes

October 14, 2021 Jim Banigan

Conduent recently participated at CBI PAP (Patient Assistance & Access Programs) Conference – a virtual event where pharma stakeholders collaborate on programs and policies for better patient outcomes. While there, I had the opportunity to discuss some of the ways pharma can make patient engagement easier in an increasingly digital world.

Creating a better experience for modern patient needs

We all know a positive patient experience is a good thing. We’ve all been a patient at some point and can understand the mix of feelings and questions that come along with getting a prescription filled, learning about new medicines and covering any potential out of pocket costs. It can be a vulnerable moment when emotions are heightened. That’s one of the reasons it’s important for pharma to be proactive in anticipating the needs of patients so they feel cared for and keep coming back.

Building good rapport with patients can be challenging enough as it is, but according to research from Johns Hopkins Medicine, upwards of 30% of patients aren’t even seeking in-person care amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more patients are looking to digital solutions for their healthcare and prescription needs. Meanwhile, on the industry side, 35% of pharmaceutical professionals believe that the pandemic has sped up digital transformation in pharma by more than five years, according to a GlobalData survey.

The trends are clear. The digital age of pharmaceuticals is here and the way patients expect to engage in their healthcare needs has permanently changed. For pharma to thrive, it must adapt to using technologies like text messages, emails and intelligent interactive voice response (IVR) in thoughtful new ways to automate and to simplify the approach to patient engagement.

Proactive outreach is a powerful differentiator

Why focus on text messages, emails and IVR as solutions? They’ve been around for years. But, that’s exactly why they’re key. These are technologies that patients of all ages are familiar with and can easily adopt. They also enable proactive, frictionless outreach to patients directly to their phones and computers without them having to perform any action.

The alternatives, such as web portals or apps, have proven to be digital islands that patients often miss or become marooned within.  Rather than assigning patients tasks to do, find ways to improve transparency via proactive outreach at critical points of the patient journey.  If further action is required by the patient, simplify the engagement by isolating views and activities specific to the action required.   

Outcomes become more predictable when using a combination of automated text messages, emails and IVR — integrated within a single platform. From here, patients are seamlessly tethered to track progress and receive updates at each segment of their journey.  Single word responses to email and text will prompt near real-time responses on status. And, status updates provided to inbound callers based upon a recognized number and simple authentication enables round the clock response without the need to involve an agent; though that option is available. 

Answer questions before they become calls

Some of the main patient touchpoints pharma can use to get ahead of patient needs and shape better outcomes is via proactive outreach involving text, encrypted email and smart IVR where patients phone in.  Looking at a typical call disposition report for a patient assistance program, 75% of calls normally fall into questions about either patient application status or prescription status. Depending on patient mix, program rules or PAP vendor selection, most pharma companies are fielding five to nine calls per enrollment. When you think about the average cost of a call, the costs can be staggering.  If your patient mix skews heavily to Medicare, then both the average handling times and frequency of calls increase; sometimes by as much as 50%. It is clear that answering questions before they become calls and embedding simple ways to self-serve can elevate your program, but even if a patient should call in there are ways to mitigate costs while elevating patient experience. 

In the example of a patient calling in, a Smart Interactive Voice Response “IVR” platform can easily identify a patient and anticipate the reason for the patient calling in by whether or not a patient’s enrollment is pending, recently approved, denied or if the patient is nearing expiry of their enrollment.  For those patients whose enrollments are pending, system voice response will provide patients up to the minute status updates, along with next steps and timing.   Patients who are already active within the program will receive updates on shipments, authorization for refill and program expiry.  For shipments in transit, patients will be able to request a text or email containing the shipper’s name, tracking number, and shipper tracking link to view where the package is at any given time. 

Other use cases for Smart IVR include the resolution of missing information. Take for instance a patient whose income documentation was not provided and they did not permit automated income verification.  An intelligent IVR would offer patients the option to either resolve the issue while on the phone, through texting or emailing a link for the patient to approve the use of electronic income verification or by uploading documents via their camera phone or photo gallery.  Document uploads or approved use of electronic income verification will instantaneously update the patient record and enrollment status – triggering the continuation of review and determination of eligibility.     

A system-driven approach for a total patient view

A lot of pharma companies we partner with often refer to terms like “personalized engagement” and worry about how to scale it effectively. But what we’re actually talking about is switching from a manual, time-consuming, agent-driven approach to a smart, automated, system-driven approach that equips both patients and agents with the information they need via guided flows at any given time.

The linchpin to making any automated technology infrastructure work is a single platform that aggregates information into a constant, up-to-date view of each of your patients’ profiles, so you always know where they’re at in their respective journeys. The platform ties all the communications and data together. But it has to be integrated with your customer relationship management system (CRM) to enable real-time routing of incoming cases. There is an interplay between process, platform and patient that can build trust and create lasting relationships.

A working example of seamless personalization

Thinking back to the example of a patient inquiring about the status of their application only to discover that vital information was missing; let’s imagine a scenario where the patient is not able to self-resolve via text or email link.  For many programs, business rules would dictate that incomplete enrollments be denied automatically – requiring patients to submit a new enrollment for re-consideration.  Meanwhile, other programs may pay agents to initiate a certain number of call attempts and related communications to the patient, alerting them of the need to submit missing documents.  Suddenly, a week goes by and the patient doesn’t even know what the specific issue is or that there’s a holdup. The patient then gets upset that they don’t have their medicine. It’s a roadblock that is taking up a lot of time.

Now let’s say the patient is receiving automated messages using information from their up-to-date profile. Here, the application process moves ahead and resolution of missing information can be addressed seamlessly. 

One of these scenarios makes for an irritated customer, the other provides an experience where the patient feels like you’re proactively managing their healthcare needs.

Reducing touchpoints for greater operational efficiency

The solutions for greater operational efficiency and better patient experiences are here now and are easier to implement than ever using a unified platform as a perfect complement to live agent support.   Any successful automated platform must still provide a clear option to talk to a real person at any point if the patient needs it. That said, Conduent sees patient adoption rates of over 50% for solutions like smart IVR. The overarching goal is to simply provide patients with the information they are most likely calling about upfront, reducing manual touch-points and resolving questions as quickly as possible. 

To learn more about how to improve the patient experience while reducing inbound calls and costs to your pharma program watch our in-depth demo: Digital Engagement – Simple Wins the Day

About the Author

Jim Banigan

Jim Banigan is Director of Patient Access Support HUB/PAP for Pharma and Life Sciences at Conduent. A proven leader and subject matter expert in patient access and reimbursement support services, Jim is passionate about innovation, good decision making and execution. He has a strong track record of success in leading HUB/PAP program design, execution and change management across multi manufacturer programs and extensive experience facilitating successful partnerships, building strong teams and delivering cutting edge technology-enabled business solutions.

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