Empathy and understanding are central to positive patient outcomes. Biopharma communications leaders know that helping patients find the support they need is central to success, for both patient health and business objectives. But when launching a new brand therapeutic, achieving these dual outcomes depends on how well we pass through the intersections in our fragmented health ecosystem.
At each intersection, a professional—whether a caregiver, advocate, nurse, prescriber, payer or pharmacist, helps guide a patient along their journey. Commercial teams must successfully align with all of these influencers.
But, possibly as a complication of the pandemic, patient relationships with these critical influencers have become fractured or lost. For example, many patients don’t have consistent physician relationships. They “doctor-hop” or see so many clinicians that they don’t have a go-to source for answers or perspective. This situation has left many patients without a trusted link to good information.
The American Health Information Management Association Foundation conducted a survey in 2021 uncovering widespread dissatisfaction among Americans regarding their health information. They found that three in four respondents don’t leave their doctor’s office on a positive note for reasons that include disappointment in the level of Q&A they have with their doctor, confusion about their health, and a need to do more research on their own. Nearly two in three Americans surveyed admit they are not highly confident in understanding the information they discuss with their doctor.
As a leader at an agency specializing in launching several biopharma brands yearly, I believe good communication is the expressway to care. With meticulous planning, effective communications cut through the confusion and help influencers in the care ecosystem better connect with patients. In my experience, the communications strategies most effective in teeing-up successful product launches include more innovative approaches to market insights, stakeholder engagement, and disciplined execution.
Innovative approaches to market insights
Patients are the reason we enter the field of health. Though many in the ecosystem have been talking about improving the “patient journey” in recent years, we must recognize the fundamental importance of patient preference and satisfaction. Through listening, we must determine how patients receiving care choose to live their everyday lives, what they want and what they need, and place those considerations on the same level with clinical outcomes.
To more accurately and efficiently develop creative communications content and channel strategies readily embraced and adopted by influencers, we must take the fullest advantage of real-world data on patient experience and satisfaction. When combined with digital tools, the deeper insights these data enable will more fully inform key stakeholders, influencers, and decision-makers and make it possible for them to better connect with patients around advances in care for their condition and the benefits of a new therapy.
Engage with stakeholders
For similar reasons, seeking early input on product attributes from payers and other stakeholders on the access side of the care continuum is essential to launch success. Ask, “what endpoints matter, and which would be required for preferred access and quick adoption?” “What are ideal therapy goals, and how does the current standard of care fail to meet those goals?” “How does our brand exceed the current standard of care in meeting the ideal therapy goals?” The answers to these questions will not only inform key message points and spokesperson narrative, they also will allow you to connect product messaging with overarching, strategic themes that meet the needs and interests of desired influencers in the ecosystem.
Payers also are key to patient experience. Communication is no longer linear from corporate commercial teams to influencers, and physicians are no longer the monolithic source of patient information they once were. In many current coverage realities, payers may be the first place patients go for information about a medication or to choose a clinician. For many, “ask your health plan” is the first advice given when there is a question about any coverage or cost issue.
Another critical stakeholder influencing patient experience and outcomes is the pharmacist—professionals who are both essential and underutilized. With strong relationships with payers, drug makers and providers, they’re arguably one of the most connected constituents, but patients don’t often understand them as a source of information. For specialized medicines in particular, health systems are increasingly leveraging pharmacists’ unique practice model to ensure optimal patient care, improve medication adherence, and enhance disease management.
Finally, advocacy organizations are becoming more engaged in helping people understand their medication options and shortcutting the process to access assistance programs, rebates, and other options to reduce out-of-pocket costs. The Association of Community Cancer Centers, for example, created this great resource for patients to assist them with access and reimbursement.
To execute product launches effectively, it’s important to establish a cross-functional approach that balances communications consistency with channel flexibility. This requires collaboration among functions, adequate staffing and timely deployment of resources.
A baseline from which to build is to clearly articulate the customer value proposition and points of differentiation across customer types and segments (e.g., patient, caregiver, physician, payer, institutional buyer). Help set clear expectations about results that can be achieved.
Finally, disciplined execution must tie back to—you guessed it—patient satisfaction. When it comes to launching preparation, involving patients in the campaign design phase and seeking their earlier feedback on therapeutic and care delivery needs is key to a successful campaign. This partnership ensures all components—educational materials, spokespeople and messaging—inspire other patients and their caregivers to engage and confront their diagnosis and help them work with their doctors to form a game plan.
The increasing diversity of product types and the market segments they serve calls for comprehensive disease area expertise, deep relationships with the clinician and patient community, a thorough understanding of the value drivers for key stakeholders—especially payers—and a skillful launch execution. Companies and communicators with these skills will be well-positioned to improve their overall launch performance.
Tom Jones, Managing Partner, Health and Pharma Sector Lead at FINN Partners. Many thanks to the colleagues who collaborated on this piece: Arielle Bernstein Pinsof, MPP, Nicole Cottrill, Todd Eury, John Bianchi, Ryan O’Grady Rubenstein, and Vance Thomas.