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Report highlights how oncology practices are becoming more virtual-oriented in light of the global pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges across the entirety of the medical landscape. Oncologists and hematologists are just a few of many healthcare providers (HCPs) that have had to adjust to these challenges on the fly, which include maintaining quality care while also protecting patients and staff. Healthcare Research & Analytics (HRA®), in collaboration with OncLive®, has completed a Rapid Research Report to provide the oncology community with insights on how the pandemic is affecting community practices throughout the US.
In this study, HRA used a 10-minute online survey of 51 US oncologists. Each treats a minimum of 50 patients per month. The interviews were completed from May 1-11, 2020. Since the start of the pandemic, respondents found the switch to more virtual-oriented patient experiences to be challenging, both technically and medically. An oncologist’s care is significantly dedicated to speaking with patients in very personal terms. Telehealth reduces the intimacy associated with giving advice or allaying fears. An overwhelming 90% said that such a protocol would remain a component of services offered by practices post-pandemic, which will have long-term implications for staffing and revenue.
The pandemic reduced the reliance on therapies that require trips to infusion centers and private offices. Over half of the oncologists (57%) reported that they have shifted 10% of their patients from infusions to oral oncolytics. On April 9, 2020, the NCCN Best Practices Committee published a peer-reviewed feature in JNCCN presenting latest insights on how to keep oncology patients and healthcare workers safe during COVID-19 pandemic, including to switch from infusion therapy to oral oncolytics if equivalent formulation is available. The prospect of managing chemotherapy in patients’ own homes or on the go will empower them to take greater control of their condition, and creates a challenge for oncologists to keep direct contact with them.
Missak Haigentz, Jr., MD, medical director of hematology and oncology for Atlantic Health System, anticipates this challenge to remain. “Moving forward, we can expect continuing treatment-related challenges,” Haigentz recently told HRA®. “It is essential that we remain flexible in how we treat patients in this ever-evolving landscape.”
Pharma companies can help to support clinicians using telehealth by developing digital solutions that were once handed to patients during office visits. Copay cards that were historically given to patients with their prescriptions can be sent via email or text. Online communities or resource centers can be developed by the firm to provide patient education, access to additional product information, and the ability to ask additional questions to healthcare providers.
The pandemic has also put a strain on the relationships between pharmaceutical sales representatives and doctors. Once the pandemic is over, only 39% of oncology practices anticipate engaging with sales reps in the same manner they did pre-pandemic. This suggests that pharmaceutical companies may have to adjust their sales training to emphasize more remote detailing. Several pharma companies have delayed new product launches due to COVID-19. Other companies have stated that they plan to handle new product launches virtually with no foreseeable plans to deploy field reps until there is a vaccine. In some ways, they may return to venues that thrived in the past, such as direct marketing.
Professional association meetings will, no doubt, return as the pandemic subsides and vaccines are available. However, there was a real uptick in virtual attendance at these meetings. These associations are getting greater exposure to a broader audience and retaining a virtual component is something that they should consider when the live meetings return.
We will continue to monitor how the healthcare community readjusts to a new normal, but for now, one thing is certain: the world of patients, HCPs, payers, and marketers will never be the same. To paraphrase Darwin, the future will not belong to the smart and powerful, but rather to those that are most capable of change.
Dave Heckard, EVP, Healthcare Research & Analytics (HRA)