Imagine booking a luxury international vacation. A dedicated concierge organizes your hotels, travel arrangements and daily itinerary. You barely lift a finger. Right off the bat, however, you realize something unusual. You have been booked on a discount airline with seats in the back of the coach section. You have to wait at the airport to be picked up by a cramped and ramshackle taxi. Your “luxury” hotel is actually a two-star establishment in a bad part of town. Why pay for a luxury concierge only to have them book such mediocre services?
This is essentially what specialty drug patients go through when trying to get therapy: DocuSign forms, 1-800 numbers leading to a maze of endless automated call centers, no more forms to fax, then move on to a another provider with its own separate database.
Considering that the pharmaceutical industry has spent billions of dollars and many years trying to create a concierge service for specialist patients, the typical patient journey is an unacceptable mess. Insisting on patients filling out a mountain of forms at the convenience of salespeople — not patients — is the opposite of a luxury vacation. The integration process is hardly transparent. Joining is a challenge, not a breeze.
Over the past decade, specialty drugs―drugs needed to treat or mitigate rare, life-threatening diseases―have exploded to become the primary revenue driver for nearly every major pharmaceutical maker. Travel for specialty patients is much more complicated than a trip to the counter at your local pharmacy. More than a quarter of prescriptions and therapies are abandoned or never started, costing specialty drug makers $76 billion in lost revenue a year.
Unsurprisingly, leaders in the pharmaceutical industry have thrown away everything but the kitchen sink to improve the specialty patient journey. The industry as a whole has invested in a host of patient services and guidance resources, from apps to websites to other digital channels. This qualifies as an attempt to roll out the red carpet.
Too often, however, this definition of “VIP treatment” results in excessive phone calls and digital paperwork. Meanwhile, industry leaders are overlooking the most important elements of a first-class experience.
Start with DocuSign, the ubiquitous form-filling software used in a range of B2C (business-to-consumer) companies. They may be convenient for a provider at one stage of a long patient journey, but not for the patient. Much like asking patients to fill out a form, print it out as a .pdf file, and fax it back to a company is a dated method of collecting data. This creates a disjointed experience, a sticking point throughout the patient journey. Above all, it makes it a terribly impersonal process.
Hiring a patient assistance center or provider can help, but even that investment can be sabotaged by shortcuts that only suit providers, not patients, jeopardizing a patient’s journey. towards treatment – and a loss of revenue for the drugmaker. To win in this environment, stakeholders must embrace the dominant force that drives other sectors of the healthcare industry: interoperability. The specialty drug system, unfortunately, means that responders have to live in a siled system. This does not mean that patients should engage individually with discrete providers at their own convenience. By establishing interoperability and applying it to all of their suppliers, drugmakers can foster a mindset of collaboration and connectivity.
In the quest for patient-centric technologies that streamline the experience for specialty drug users, the winners will be those who not only meet patients at the right time, but also make action incredibly easy. DocuSign is the opposite of this ideal. This vast business transaction tool is a band-aid, an impermanent solution that is “good enough for now”. It’s a perfect example of an industry concocting a hodgepodge of solutions and hoping for the best.
The underlying drain of patients will persist until pharmaceutical companies begin to think holistically throughout the specialist patient journey. These patients are VIPs. Their course must be faultless. They need a spectacular first-class experience that eliminates any chance they won’t arrive at their destination.
About Yishai Knobel
Yishai is the co-founder and CEO of HelpAround. Prior to HelpAround, Knobel was responsible for mobile telephony at AgaMatrix Diabetes, maker of the world’s first smartphone glucometer. He also served in Microsoft’s startup labs in Cambridge and as an officer in an elite Israeli military R&D unit. Knobel earned his MBA from MIT and holds BAs in psychology and computer science.