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Jim O’Donoghue is head of S3 Connected Health, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. He has 30 years’ experience in designing and delivering innovative services and solutions across healthcare, consumer and communications sectors.Over the past 15 years Jim and his team have designed digital patient support solutions for Pharma and Healthcare Providers that are available across 40 countries, including the largest telehealth program in the UK, and the largest chronic disease management program in Europe.
There’s a growing realization that advances in connected devices, sensors and predictive analytics represent a game-changer when it comes to patient support programs (PSPs), writes Jim O'Donaghue.
Until quite recently, many in pharma regarded patient support programs as a nice-to-have: useful in trying to address the challenges of access, support and adherence, but often too costly, small-scale or hard to evaluate to really demonstrate value to payers.
That time has certainly passed. Nowadays, there’s a growing realization that advances in connected devices, sensors and predictive analytics represent a game-changer when it comes to patient support programs (PSPs) that can deliver truly personalized care for patients.
Where before PSPs might have been limited by being nurse-led, siloed by brand or condition and fairly cookie-cutter in terms of the type of support offered, it’s now possible to create digital programs using smartphones and other devices that give the patient a holistic and individualized experience.
At the same time, the growth of value-based reimbursement means payers are demanding more sophisticated real-world outcomes data when justifying purchase decisions. So how are these macro-trends influencing pharma's approach to PSPs?
At a recent webinar organized by eyeforpharma and S3 Connected Health, we took the pulse of the pharma sector with some interactive polling - and the results were revealing.
We heard from leading lights in some of pharma's biggest firms, including Novartis’ Sander Ruitenberg, UCB's Doug Stover and Shire’s Dhairya Mehta. All were agreed that next-gen patient services and embracing digital therapeutics were critical for transforming the industry’s traditional business model, to a model that places value - to patients, HCPs and payers - at the center.
But to what extent is talk turning into actions? When asked whether their firms were investing in next-gen PSPs, an encouraging 24% of our 234 webinar respondents replied with an emphatic “yes”. More worrying however, a further third were only making “sporadic” investments, while another fifth were “planning to”. The remainder were making improvements to old-style PSPs, while 10% weren't investing in any form of PSP.
While some conditions which naturally don’t lend themselves to utilizing patient support services partly account for the 10% who weren’t investing at all, it still leaves two-thirds (66%) only making piecemeal efforts, or not currently investing at all in next-gen services to focus on patient as opposed to brand value.
A sentiment we heard from a number of contributors was that many PSPs today remain siloed - based around specific branded therapies or disease areas. But there’s also a recognition that, with increasingly comorbid populations in many countries, patient challenges often go far beyond the therapy they are taking or even the specific condition, and extend outside the hospital or clinic into their everyday lives.
Next-gen PSPs will be personalized, continuous, data-driven and grounded in behavioral science. They’ll be predictive, adaptive to patient thoughts and behaviors and integrated into care pathways. For pharma, they represent a revolution in insights based on real-world data, providing the critical evidence base of improved outcomes payers will increasingly demand and expect, as we outlined in a recent white paper.
In the future, we’ll also see a stronger focus on “brand agnostic” PSPs that fit into the patient’s life - using behavioral science and AI to provide individualized adherence support when they need it, and knowing when to back off when they don't.
Of course, this is a paradigm shift for pharma. But there are encouraging signs that the leading firms are prepared to break the mold, partnering with third-party tech firms to outsource not just technological innovation, but also some of the knotty issues that come with more advanced PSPs, not least data compliance across jurisdictions.
For example, our panel were unanimous in thinking that it’s no longer necessary for pharma firms to develop and own every element of a PSP themselves. There’s an acceptance that it makes sense to partner with more nimble third-parties who specialize in complex digital technologies.
As Sander Ruitenberg observed: “There’s a lot we can do really well because of our scale to reach customers. But when it comes to a lot of the real innovation there is amazing work being done in smaller environments. We shouldn't try to take that over because actually the way these companies have set themselves up is a great incubator for innovation and we wouldn’t necessarily be able to recreate that.”
It’s a similar story when it comes to the management of patient data. Quite simply, it can be a more attractive proposition if the data is managed by a third party and comes back to the pharma partner in an anonymised fashion, taking away some of the responsibility - and potential pitfalls - of being the data controller.
A recurring theme was the need to speed up the innovation cycle to build the technological solutions quickly enough that they don’t get overtaken by the pace of change. But even once you’ve built the technology, operationalizing and managing it is another challenge and pharma companies aren’t necessarily best placed to address that.
The direction of travel is clear: asked how far their ambitions with PSPs extended, 40% of our webinar respondents said they were “a significant way to make medicine more holistic”, with a further 38% going so far as to call them “the primary/essential way to support patients”.
It's now time to turn this momentum for change into a compelling value proposition for patients, health professionals and payers, positioning pharma as a true partner in the delivery of care and improving healthcare outcomes.
Jim O’Donoghue is President, S3 Connected Health.