Embracing the digital patient

Sheila Patel, Vice President of Business Technology at Capgemini Invent and Richard Marcil, CCO at conversationHEALTH

Not that long ago — prior to COVID — when a patient wanted to participate in a patient assistance program, they often had to print and then fax or mail a paper application, go for an in person visit to complete, fax another form, and then check with a call center to get the status of the application. If the patient made it through this process, they’d receive an acceptance letter by mail and schedule a delivery over the phone. Less than a year later, the process repeats as they renew their patient assistance eligibility. Literally and not uncommon.

Post-COVID, this already laborious process became even more challenging for patients. 41% of US adults have delayed in person medical visits during the pandemic. Coordinating medical need documentation with healthcare providers — faxing forms, nagging doctor’s offices to follow up — adds another hurdle for patient access. This model that limped along before is now unworkable. And it’s no longer an issue of digital adoption — patients are digital, we’re all digital.

There are 4 Cs for improving patient assistance programs: Customer-Centric, Capable Frictionless Processes, Cost and Efficiency, and Channel Modernization.

Existing patient assistance programs lack a customer-centric approach. Why does the patient need to coordinate the process? Why don’t channels align with customer preference and capabilities? Why aren’t we using intelligent agents and best practices that we use in so many other parts of our lives? There should be a minimal learning curve — patients should not need to become experts in companies’ processes to get assistance. They need to be communicated “where am I and what do I need to do next?”

Another area of weakness is capable processes that are not frictionless. Current processes are out of date, often overly manual and not adapted to virtual settings. There are too many touchpoints and hand offs where the process can break, especially when human to human contact is no longer the norm. In a world where digital tools are available, it is essential to have these implemented now to maximize the patient experience. Never mind compliance, security and privacy consideration of manual, analog handoffs.

The reality of dated, analog processes means that cost is high and efficiency low, not a good combination for programs that are non-promotional. Call centers are expensive and breakdowns in manual processes are time consuming. And that’s for 9AM to 5PM, Monday to Friday coverage. In short, patient assistance programs need to be fully re-imagined for the 21st century. Performing an engagement blueprint assuming no in person visits is a good starting point — that’s what we’ve been doing for the past year. Automation, digitization and virtualization of humans will drive great customer experience, better health outcomes and reduce costs.

Finally, patient assistance programs need channel modernization. Call centers, fax machines, and postal mail are the channels of the last century. How many of us have fax machines? Do we expect patients to have them? How many pieces of mail do you send a week versus email? Do we expect patients to behave differently? Again, where is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools, intelligent virtual assistants, intelligent automation, secure networks, multi-channel engagement, etc.?

We can jest about fax machines but these are critical health programs. Programs that should be accessible to more patients, across more treatments, across more markets. Patient assistance programs provide access to life changing medications for patients that face financial barriers to receiving treatment. When those programs aren’t accessible, these patients suffer, whether it’s the cancer patient already overwhelmed now navigating a Byzantine application process in the face of potentially terminal disease, or an autoimmune disease patient suffering daily pain as the gears of the machine grind on. If we don’t adapt these programs to today’s patient needs, underpin with robust processes, significantly increase efficiency and coverage, and modernize channels for access and customer experience, we will fail the very patients who depend on them.

To learn more about our digital solutions to engage HCPs, patients and consumers, book a meeting with conversationHEALTH & Capgemini today.

The conversationHEALTH SaaS platform is purpose-built for the life sciences industry to engage with patients, consumers and healthcare professionals 24/7/365.

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