Direct to Consumer: A Q&A with Jim Hoyes

Targeted Patient Education; Multiple sclerosis patients can benefit from a new kind of support system.
Nov 01, 2005

Jim Hoyes, executive vice president of the neurology division at Serono.
Patients with chronic diseases often lack easy access to specific information about their condition and treatment options. To keep patients better informed, some pharma companies have developed targeted patient-education programs. Serono, a biotech company specializing in treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS) (Rebif and Novantrone), among other therapeutic areas, launched a program in 2002 designed for patients with MS. The MSLifeLines program offers a call-center service, an interactive Web site (, an ambassador program in which 90 MS patients serve as spokespeople to the MS community, and reimbursement assistance.

"We have found a nice balance between supporting new patients and those who are in therapy, or those struggling with compliance," says Jim Hoyes, executive vice president of Serono's neurology division, who helped grow the program. The MSLifeLines program reaches 40,000 patients and its call staff—to date—has made more than 600,000 calls.

Pharm Exec: How has the MSLifeLines program evolved since its inception?

Hoyes: Initially it was very focused on new starts—both newly diagnosed patients and patients switching from other therapies. But now we support both new and already existing patients. For patients who have been on Rebif for two or three years, we have developed compliance initiatives and relationship marketing programs that focus specifically on patient retention.

How has that shift in focus from new patient starts to compliance changed what you do?

Fighting the Battle
It made us reflect on the core activities of the call center and shift emphasis to outbound call activity, reaching out to our patient base more regularly to ensure they have what they need to remain on therapy. This made us realize the need for our staff to really understand the lifelong impact of MS on patients and their families. We also have increased the involvement of our MSLifeLines Ambassadors. These ambassadors drive much of the program's content and provide a valuable resource to the MS community.

How does the program speak to patients on an individual level?

First, in today's environment, we have to be fully HIPAA compliant in terms of confidentiality. That's a big component of how we interact and build credibility and trust with MS patients. With that said, there are patients who need to opt into various programs. But once they do, we then can tailor the program to their needs, instead of offering just a static Web site or a one-size-fits-all approach. We encounter all kinds of patients. We have some who are doing fine on therapy but whose employer just changed health plans so they need support on reimbursement. We help them deal with that transition. Or if it's a patient who has a tolerability issue, we can have our nursing component talk to them and deal with that issue directly or in conjunction with a neurologist. We also recently launched the MS Health Manager, powered by WebMD. This tool allows people with MS to take an online assessment that helps them evaluate how they are doing on therapy and where they may need additional support. The results of their assessment are matched up with the appropriate educational offerings. At the same time, we realize that MS patients are on therapy chronically. None of these products are cures, despite great progress made in MS treatments over the last ten years.

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