Direct to Consumer: A Q&A with Jim Hoyes - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Direct to Consumer: A Q&A with Jim Hoyes
Targeted Patient Education; Multiple sclerosis patients can benefit from a new kind of support system.


Pharmaceutical Executive


What are the benefits of offering a patient-support call center?




Beyond the programs in the MS arena, and in other specialty disease states, there are many products that require reimbursement support and patient self-administration. Our call center caters to those needs by including reimbursement specialists and nurse specialists as a part of our call staff. They can help alleviate some of patients' anxiety about being diagnosed with MS and the challenges they may face with reimbursement. Many companies often wonder whether they should develop that capability internally or outsource it. We wanted to have the internal capability. Some of our call-center staff came from big call centers, such as those in the financial services industry. Their expertise really helped us get the infrastructure right. Furthermore, while we are committed to MS patients with Rebif and Novantrone—for patients with worsening MS—we also have a growing pipeline of additional products. Because we're in this for the long haul, it made sense to develop the expertise internally.

Is your call center structured in a way to gain information from patients?

First, we ask our patients if they want to be tracked in our database. If they don't want to be included, we certainly respect that. For those who do elect to be included, we can provide more targeted and focused information to them. But if they just want to make one call during their whole course of the disease—and we can provide the answer for them—then that's a positive for us. But many patients do seek an ongoing relationship with our staff and do sign up to receive e-newsletters and notifications about patient programs.

How does your ambassador program stimulate patient-to-patient interaction?

Our ambassadors help educate other patients on Rebif or Novantrone. They will talk about what it's like to be on therapy and how they've dealt with the disease. Because patients starting Rebif don't want to feel like they're facing the challenges of MS alone, it's helpful for them to see patients who've addressed their MS head-on. In some cases, we have patients who have not only dealt with the medical issues, but have used this opportunity to revamp their lifestyle, as opposed to letting the disease overcome them. Some patients have become long-distance bikers, or have been inspired to switch career paths. This can be very empowering for other patients. Newly diagnosed patients often are looking for a third-party shoulder to lean on, or someone to talk to aside from a physician. They want to feel free to ask basic questions such as: How do I start therapy? How do I learn to inject myself? It's more than just a clinical discussion in the context of a doctor's appointment—it's about how they deal with MS in the context of their life.

How do patients relate to the call-center staff?

Patients first make contact with a call-center representative during their info-seeking mode. But the interaction really happens once the patient makes the call and talks to either a reimbursement specialist or a nurse specialist. Patients often have too many sources of information—everything from brochures to starter kits to health plan formulary information. Our staff can help them sort through the information and determine what's really important. We have people who have been on Rebif for the last four years who continue to speak to the call center rep who took their first call. They've established a trust, even a friendship with these patients.


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