On June 16, 2021, Cecelia Health CEO, Mark Clermont, participated in a roundtable discussion on how pharma companies can leverage digital health to optimize patient support and engagement.  


Hosted by Fierce Pharma Marketing, the roundtable also featured Isabel Silva, Senior Director & Oncology Digital TA Lead at AstraZeneca, and Eden Wells, Vice President of Patient & Specialty Services for U.S. Pharmaceuticals at Novartis. Below are five key takeaways from the discussion.


COVID-19 highlights new opportunities for revolutionizing patient engagement 


Prior to the pandemic, pharma companies often viewed patient engagement as a lower priority. But as the healthcare system became overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, pharma companies began to prioritize keeping people safe from the virus while promoting overall medication adherence. 


As an industry, pharma companies are expanding their focus on patient engagement. For example, they are exploring how to accelerate health transformation faster and more boldly via digital health modalities like video, instead of through traditional methods like clinic settings and mass media campaigns. 


In terms of digital health adoption, pharma companies lag behind healthcare providers and payers. Nevertheless, all three stakeholders face a learning curve when it comes to leveraging digital health for patient care. 


To illustrate, ever since the pandemic began, many providers and payers have been sending patients their health information through digital formats. However, for patients with chronic conditions, this influx of health data further exacerbated the confusion they were already feeling because of the pandemic. 


When utilized appropriately, digital health tools can identify gaps in care plus help patients overcome knowledge barriers — thereby increasing medication adherence and brand loyalty.


There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to digital health adoption


Various factors influence whether digital healthcare is ideal for patients — including the patient’s disease process, whether a caregiver is needed, and whether the patient has a physical disability that impedes digital health use. 


Despite these potential hurdles, digital health adoption remains promising. Studies show that prior to the pandemic around 30% of patients would respond well to digital health modalities for chronic disease management. During the pandemic, this percentage has continued to rise, as digital health tools become increasingly tailored to patient preferences, such as personalized video and telephone communications.   


Telehealth is evolving and continues to reveal gaps in medication adherence


Last year, telehealth adoption exploded as patients suddenly found themselves with limited access to their providers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Presently, the telehealth trend is still soaring, as patients continue to demand convenient access to care. Moreover, providers are reducing administrative burdens by incorporating telehealth into their workflow. 


These trends indicate that telehealth is likely to keep growing in popularity. Additionally, the surge in telehealth usage has underscored a long-standing issue: poor medication onboarding. A telehealth visit can reveal medication onboarding and adherence problems that providers may miss in the clinic environment. 


For example, a patient with diabetes who uses a connected pen for insulin management may believe they’re applying it correctly but also wonder why their blood sugar levels remain out of control. During clinic visits with the patient, the provider makes insulin dosing changes. However, after the patient meets virtually with a dedicated diabetes expert, it becomes clear that the patient had not been properly onboarded and the device was malfunctioning the entire time. 


Whereas adequate medication onboarding can be difficult to achieve in a clinic setting, telehealth can enhance medication onboarding and provide ample patient support. 


Disease-specific expertise plus digital health tools can boost health outcomes


Digital health modalities enable patients with chronic conditions (e.g., multiple sclerosis) to collaborate remotely with disease-specific experts. This integration of technology and clinician support streamlines patient monitoring, making it easier to anticipate and mitigate patient deterioration as well as improve medication adherence. 


Complex conditions, such as diabetes and heart failure, often need a higher level of onboarding to increase the likelihood of brand loyalty and medication adherence. 


For example, patients with heart failure may not feel compelled to take their medication because they feel “fine.” Providing access to registered nurses who are well-trained in cardiovascular care can help encourage these patients to continue their medication therapy and overcome the psychosocial obstacles they perceive in their care. 


Ultimately, virtual patient support must work within the larger ecosystem of the patient’s healthcare experience. For pharma companies, this means retrieving and analyzing patient data to meet patients where they are in their health journey, improve their health outcomes, and earn their trust.  


Upgrades to reimbursement and interoperability enrich the patient experience


Recent changes by CMS regarding reimbursement and interoperability give patients greater access to their data, creating an exciting revolution of data fluidity and liquidity. 


Pharma companies have a tremendous opportunity to work with patients by accessing their data (with their consent), personalizing their care around this data, and helping them successfully initiate a medication and use it accurately throughout their health journey. By applying this process to each patient, pharma companies can build high-value health outcomes for entire populations and increase lifetime customer value. 


As CMS regulations on privacy and other aspects of interoperability continue to evolve, the future remains bright for pharma companies willing to tap into digital health strategies, such as virtual patient support.