When we reflect on 2020, we may come to think of it a period when we had the time to pursue simpler, do-it-yourself, pleasures like making bread or planting a garden. Many of us used the endless pandemic months to learn a new a language or take up a new outdoor sport.
Another new experience for many of us was using telehealth to access care. Telehealth visits went from 50 million in 2019 to around a billion in 2020. We scheduled appointments, signed forms, and visited with providers in unprecedented, digitally supported ways, developing skills very few of us had prior to March 2020.
The pandemic sped up trends already on the ascent. Digital health devices such as fitness trackers, continuous glucose monitors, smart scales, and even jump ropes are all products consumers were becoming increasingly familiar with. But the advent of telehealth went way beyond our desire for data and propelled us into a realm of autonomy and control. For anyone who has spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for a return call from the nurse, autonomy and control are not words patients typically associate with healthcare.
But now here we are.
We can make appointments whenever we feel like it because there are no “office hours” during which we have to call. We can take appointments from a location of our choosing without the inconvenience of traffic. We can text the pharmacy that we’d like our prescription refilled and watch videos on how to administer a drug to ourselves rather than making an appointment with a nurse educator.
It is clear what this sea change means for patients and providers, but what does it mean for pharmaceutical companies who do the yeoman’s work of supporting access, adherence, and affordability for specialty drugs?
Fortunately, the drive from fee-for-service to value-based care dovetails beautifully with patients’ increasing self-reliance. A thoughtfully designed care model can support better outcomes in ways that better fit into people’s lives. But how exactly will care models have to change?
Here are five ways:
1. Let the patient take the wheel
Being a patient in our healthcare system can often feel like an exercise in feeling powerless. Giving patients control over their experience whenever possible is a good thing – for both patients and pharma companies. During the pandemic, we’ve all managed with less personal contact. Patients will certainly need support at points, but they don’t need coddling. Let them determine the points at which they accept support from a care model. Don’t cold call or send helpers to patients’ homes unless they have been invited. Find ways to provide support online and on-demand.
2. Forget the check
Helping patients with out-of-pocket costs has been a hallmark of best-in-class care models and that need has not abated. But the world in which patients carry a physical card to present at a physical office is over. Savings programs that reimburse patients for upfront costs by mailing them a check to deposit in their bank account are inconvenient and out of touch. Patients will want to use Venmo or Apple Pay. Care models better be there.
3. Digital integration is the way forward
As telehealth becomes the norm, be prepared for healthcare systems to integrate telehealth technology with their electronic health record system to make billing simpler. Hundreds of Application Programming Interface (API) platforms have emerged to support this shift and will become one more player in the ecosystem that connects payors, patients, and providers. In many ways, these platform companies are direct competitors to pharmaceutical care models. To be relevant, drug companies will need to offer solutions that are more sophisticated and data driven than well-designed brochures and enrollment forms. Smart pharma companies have begun to form partnerships with API companies that will increase their relevance to providers.
4. Why wait to educate
In the last year, we’ve all had the experience of sitting in a virtual waiting room until a provider appointment begins. Why not offer that captive audience something to look at besides themselves? Well-produced education videos that support adherence, delivered while patients are waiting for care, can save time for patients and help ensure your education messages are delivered.
5. The front door is the new portal or hub
Healthcare has always struggled to match the ease and sophistication of day-to-day services like banking and grocery shopping that have leapt ahead in their digital capabilities. But after 12 months of Netflix, Amazon, and Grubhub, who is willing to tolerate the opaque interfaces and erratic performance many healthcare hubs deliver? Care model providers need to start thinking of these digital interaction points less like a cluster of programming and more like an attractive, welcoming digital “front door” that patients want to approach and walk through. Design researchers and interaction designers should be your new best friends through the development process. This is a whole new world for healthcare – look to other industries who are well ahead of that curve in delivering services that delight.
The Covid-19 pandemic prompted accelerated adoption of technology and increased our self-sufficiency. Consumers will not go back to long waits, high interpersonal dependency, and transactions without transparency. And patients, even though they do need support, will demand that care models meet them on their terms by respecting the autonomy and control they’ve earned the right to expect.
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