Copyright_Pop Nukoonrat_123RF

The coronavirus pandemic and the changing environment have impacted pharmaceutical manufacturer-sponsored patient support programs.

Manufacturers offer patient support programs to help individuals access their medication and navigate the health-care system, according to Sandra Anderson, senior vice-president of commercialization and strategy at Innomar Strategies, speaking during a session at Benefits Canada‘s Face to Face in Drug Plan Management Forum in December.

Patient support programs deal with patients and physicians every day and gain insight on issues and emerging trends and how they may shape the future of health care. Payers can benefit from partnerships with patient support programs, noted Anderson, to address concerns about plan sustainability, price pressures and support for cost management tools such as product listing agreements.

Read: A look at the benefits of patient support programs for plan members, sponsors

Some of the patient support program changes due to the pandemic are “likely here to stay,” she said. Not surprisingly, there’s been an increase in demand for virtual and digital offerings. For example, she noted, “we have seen an increase in requests for virtual training,” such as instruction from a nurse on how to self-administer an injection for a biologic treatment. “Typically, these were done in-person and now we’re seeing a trend towards remote training.”

Payers should also consider how to connect digitally with patient support programs to streamline the patient experience, added Anderson. “We’re seeing electronic prior authorization programs,” which she sees as an important future investment opportunity for payers.

A lot of the new drugs coming to the market are more complex and niche, such as those that treat rare cancers or cell and gene therapies for rare diseases. Some of these treatments are very different than traditional therapies and may only require a one-time curative treatment in a specialized clinic.

Due to the higher cost of these treatments, payers may want more detailed information. “There’s a huge opportunity to leverage the patient support program to collect evidence and monitor outcomes,” said Anderson, noting patient support programs are being designed to meet these unique needs.

To avoid confusion or duplication between pharmaceutical company-sponsored patient support programs and the similar case management programs offered by insurers, she said, “it’s important to explain to the patient the differences in the services.”

Read: Telus Health, Canada Life, Innomar taking drug prior authorization online

Patient support program databases collect data about the patient journey that might otherwise be siloed due to the design of the Canadian health-care system. This rich dataset can be integrated and leveraged by payers to inform decision-making or support manufacturer outcomes-based agreements.

Patient support programs are building out capabilities for machine learning and artificial intelligence, which allow them to better understand — and potentially predict — patient behaviour based on the data they collect. These learnings, noted Anderson, can support interventions to help patients be more adherent or implementation of technologies that “focus on whole disease management of the patient versus just that moment in time with that one drug.”

Most specialty medications offer patient support programs and, as the number of specialty drugs grow, so do the number of programs. Patients with complex conditions, such as cancer, can be on several therapies and would have to enrol in multiple programs, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming. “We have seen a trend where some manufacturers are working together” to simplify the process for patients and physicians, said Anderson.

Read more coverage of the 2021 Face to Face in Drug Plan Management Forum.