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Building an Optimal Patient Support Team


How effective training programs enable ‘next-generation’ patient engagement.

Lise Seger

Lise Seger

Providing patients with education and support during their treatment journey is a critical component of many pharmaceutical commercialization plans, particularly in the area of specialty medicines and rare and orphan diseases. Teams of field and virtual clinical educators face the task of educating these patients and their care partners in the hopes of engaging them with their therapies, improving their adherence, and ultimately improving outcomes. In addition to having a deep understanding of corporate policies that cover compliance to regulations within the pharmaceutical industry, clinical educators also need to be trained to address a variety of situations including anxious patients unsure of how to self-administer a new medication or healthcare providers (HCPs) involved in a busy practice and needing product education. These educational situations are further complicated by the technology inherent in today’s “next-generation” communications. As a result, clinical educators need training on those special skills needed to best provide education and support to patients within today’s ever-changing healthcare landscape.

Learning and development (L&D) teams working in the area of patient support are discovering that in order to be truly effective, clinical educators must be onboarded and subsequently supported with the training on the skills and knowledge that help them understand behavioral styles and the power of motivational interviewing. In doing so, the clinical educators are better equipped to communicate most effectively with not only patients, care partners, and HCPs, but with their colleagues and managers—with empathy being the key ingredient. In addition, by beginning their employee journey with robust and even personalized training plans replete with useful insights and tools, it is far more likely to retain the clinical educator as an employee. In the face of the pandemic-fueled “Great Resignation,” this is a serious consideration for all training departments. Indeed, a recent survey reported by iSolved indicated that 51% of respondents have been tempted to leave a new job due to a negative onboarding experience.1

As a result, L&D initiatives have certainly become a competitive advantage for organizations aiming to hold onto their top talent, and L&D teams have a pivotal role to play in helping organizations overcome the employee dissatisfaction leading to resignation. From developing personalized training plans to implementing credentialing and accreditation for courses, L&D can ensure that learning becomes a key employer marketing tool for attracting and retaining top talent in patient support for the business, ultimately leading to better patient, care partner, and HCP support.

The following four-part L&D approach provides a strong and innovative complement to a robust onboarding process for clinical educators and their managers as well as serving to support them throughout their journey on a patient solutions team. It is designed to provide a motivational job experience along with the training, insights, and tools needed to best enable patient engagement in today’s technology-based communication environment.

Build resilience

Even before the pandemic strained the skill sets of many to respond positively in the face of change, uncertainty, and stress, organizations were recognizing the need to put programs in place to help employees build resilience when facing everyday challenges and adversity. In addition to helping employees cope with the everyday stressors caused by work and personal factors, these resilience programs were established to help employees thrive in their role and within themselves.

Today, the rising role of “next-generation” technology and the ever-changing healthcare landscape, along with potentially increasing financial and societal pressures on the home front, are creating even more challenges that the patient support team might have to overcome to be effective. Therefore, a key component of any L&D program in patient support should be to have a toolbox available with evidence-based approaches and strategies to assist employees with building resilience skills.

The building resiliency toolbox might contain readings, podcasts, videos, and self-practice units on topics such as managing stress, breathing techniques, grounding and centering techniques, mindfulness, gratitude, and self-care. These elements can be used at any time by the patient support team providing them with assistance as they need it along their employee journey.

Tools for success

Patient support teams work with patients, care partners, HCPs, and management. Each of these groups is composed of individuals with unique communication styles impacting how one approaches engagement. Taking Flight with DISC builds on the tried-and-true DISC training program to help each person understand their unique communication style and those of others, in order to gain the flexibility and agility needed to address the individual communication needs at hand. As such, this program should be part of your new team orientation.

Taking this program a step further, one can tap Taking Flight with Emotional Quotient to enable the patient support team in recognizing, evaluating, understanding, and controlling their emotions and, in turn, influencing the emotions of others. In understanding emotional quotients, members of the patient support team will be even better positioned to achieve long-term success.

With today’s pharma industry focusing more and more on equitable inclusion, it is necessary to establish a work environment where all members of the patient support team have an understanding of whom they are and are able to respectfully engage with fellow team members, managers, patients, care partners, and HCPs. In understanding their communication style and emotional quotient, patient support team members have the capability to achieve such engagement to achieve program objectives.

Listen and communicate

A successful clinical educator is able to properly engage with patients and assist those patients with understanding how to use their medication and adhere to their prescribed treatment regimen. However, even when clinical educators have been trained to understand patients’ communication styles, they might not be able to break the barrier to learning patients establish.

To overcome this, one should have in place a patient-centric motivational interviewing program in which patient support teams can participate within their first year of employment. The program should address engagement skills at a very high level, incorporating the key concepts of communication, empathy, listening, behavioral styles, and social determinants of health to encourage successful patient interactions and improve patient motivation. By focusing on what motivates patients, clinical educators can truly help patients become active participants in their change process, and as a result, clinical educators achieve greater job satisfaction.

Participant responses to a patient-centric motivational interviewing program recently conducted with a patient support team at a client site clearly demonstrate the value such a program offers. Ninety-two percent of the participants found the program to include interesting and innovative content enabling them to be resourceful with their patients. Key learnings on how to conduct themselves differently included: to stay calm and listen, to work on active listening with no interruptions, to put oneself in the patient’s shoes, to listen completely before responding, to be more empathetic and listen actively, and to be more conscious of compliance. In a word cloud generated from responses on how participants felt after completing the program, “confident” was by far the strongest answer.

Clearly the program helped the patient support team become more confident in their support role by learning how to best respond and engage through motivational interviewing and active listening. Obtaining such evaluations post-training helps to determine the effectiveness of the program and what could be tweaked for even better outcomes. It is also important that the team managers follow up to make sure that the team members are able to put their learnings into practice.

Practice virtual interactions

Virtual interactions with patients are now an essential part of any patient support program. However, not everyone has the skill set to engage successfully via a phone or video format. It can take practice to find the necessary comfort level with the medium, and finding that practice in actual patient, care partner, or HCP interactions can be detrimental to the overall support program.

To better understand the team’s existing virtual skill set and prepare them with best practices in virtual engagement, one should run a training program using simulated virtual interactions. Ideally, this should be done during orientation but certainly within the first year of employment. This training program should involve the team and their managers, as manager involvement and pull-through of learnings is key to the team’s and individual member’s success.

To create an optimal learning experience, the group should be split in two where the teams co-facilitate. One half should address the content while the other half does behind-the-scenes technology work with the various video-conferencing platforms. The two teams should then switch roles when finished with the exercise. In providing this interactive format, the team members are given the opportunity to use their creativity to address the interaction and are able to critique one another on best practices in content presentation as well as using the technology.

This type of training allows everyone to truly learn what is involved in being virtual; not only how to best use the technology, but how to “be present” on a webcam and how to bring their passion and engagement techniques into play even when using the chat feature.

Develop a culture

Finding and then developing employees who will provide patient support to meet your organization’s goals can be a challenge. Retaining those employees can be even more difficult. Having a positive learning culture within your patient support business will not only attract top talent but help to retain it as well. The key is to assimilate your organization’s culture, diversity, mentoring, education, and development into all employee learning plans throughout the employee journey. Onboarding is just the first step. Development lasts the entire journey. Using these four key training programs throughout the patient support team journey will demonstrate the organization’s vested interest in employee development and provide a solid foundation upon which employees can obtain job satisfaction and grow their career.


  1. Voice of the Workforce: What Employees Say They Really Want, iSolved, 2021.


Lise Seger is global senior director at Ashfield Engage Patient Solutions Learning and Development.

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