Building Partnerships and Scaling Services to Patient Needs

By Shanna Barnes |

Shanna Barnes, Vice President of New Business Development, shares her perspective on building proactive, sustainable client relationships.

A consultative approach is fundamental for forming strong partnerships and scalable patient support programs. Shanna Barnes, Vice President of New Business Development at Lash Group, reveals what it takes to develop effective, lasting client relationships and deep knowledge of patient support needs in order to grow with manufacturers as the pharmaceutical market evolves.

Q: At what stage of a product launch is your team ideally introduced?

Shanna Barnes: Making the first contact about twelve months prior to launch is ideal. However, we are well-positioned to support clients who have a shorter runway. Sometimes we advise clients as early as Phase 2 or Phase 3 in the development process. It's imperative for our team to get introduced early in the process so we can help inform the client's overall strategy. Although patient services are typically thought of at the end of a product launch – very close to commercialization – it's important for us to have more in-depth knowledge of the product to identify the crucial elements that providers and patients rely upon after launch.

Q: How should manufacturers vet a potential patient support partner?
SB: There are a few key areas manufacturers need to look at when evaluating a potential partner. The first is the partner's level of expertise. A good partner should demonstrate expertise within the specific market for the product: consider how informed are they in regard to the disease state, competitive landscape, product life cycle and the expectations of patients and providers. At Lash Group, we focus on being consultative and leveraging our expertise to help shape informed support services to be on par or better than others in the space.The second factor to consider is how well-versed they are with the current payer landscape—because that knowledge can have a tremendous impact on the recommended design and implementation of the solution. For example, if the product will serve a population with heavy commercial coverage, is the partner recommending robust copay services? For a population with higher Medicare coverage, are they offering guidance for foundation support? Do they have payer research data that supports their recommendations? Are they flexible enough to manage complex coverage mixes, which can often include a blend of automated and experienced counselor support?

Q: The current COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on every facet of healthcare. How should manufacturers be looking at patient support programs during this unique time?

SB: The strain on people right now — mentally, economically, physically — is significant. For patients being treated for significant health conditions, the need for reliable and empathetic patient support is even more heightened to ensure they have access to vital therapies. 

When it comes to choosing a partner, my advice is to find a company that has committed to creating and implementing strong business continuity plans to ensure they can stay in full operation during a crisis. That is foundational. On top of that, a great partner is also thinking ahead and anticipating what patients are going to need as the situation evolves, from having additional medication on hand to providing more frequent touchpoints with nurses to reassure them about remaining on therapy.

Q: Are there skills or experience that are often underrated during the selection process but extremely important for executing a program?

SB: Absolutely. We often talk about our years of experience in the industry. It is more than just counting calendar months. Understanding how that time translates into the knowledge needed for a particular product or disease state is critical. How a partner like Lash Group applies experience in a compensative way is what brings value. I urge manufacturers to consider more than just great technology. Also consider the trifecta of people, process and technology that comes together to provide solution-oriented patient services. Lash Group benefits from the knowledge and expertise that results from launching numerous services over a long period of time. Our experience also informs technology innovation for our programs.

Q: What is Lash Group's organizational strategy for working with new clients?

SB: The process of bringing a product to market is a long one, and the journey can be overwhelming for any decision maker. As an organization, our approach is to leverage integrated business development along the way. For new clients, this involves analyzing other areas of AmerisourceBergen — such as a World Courier, ICS, Strategic Global Sourcing or Xcenda—to determine the right time to incorporate different expertise into the launch strategy. We'll say to new clients, 'Let's break this journey down into manageable pieces. Who do you need to engage with and when?' We want to ensure that the manufacturer feels confident in the strategy and has a voice throughout the process.

In addition, we have developed an industry-leading launch process based on the knowledge and insights gleaned from years of experience. Our Launch Center of Excellence has a proven process that is customizable to fit manufacturer needs and has collaboration with the manufacturer baked in from the beginning.

Q: Is there a misconception in the marketplace that Lash Group is only focused on large clients?

SB: Historically, we've been perceived as the provider for large clients. That perception is changing as we're able to communicate the breadth of services we provide and share thought leadership around rare and orphan diseases. Our services are based on the needs of patients and the therapies being developed in the current healthcare environment. Today, we have a several smaller programs that leverage our expertise and we are having success managing these programs. We are equally successful with small and large programs.

Q: Does your approach differ for large versus small programs?

SB: There are certain best practices and standards we have honed over several years that don't change based on the size of the program. However, we do adapt our approach based on specific client needs and the patients being served. For example, a smaller client introducing their first product to market may not have the resources or the bandwidth to engage with four or five members of our team. We understand their needs and look to adopt a strategy that is going to work with the specific manufacturer and their patient population. If the patient population is very small, for example, we may suggest working directly with skilled members of our team, and then look to incorporate automation as the program progresses—ensuring time to collect necessary payer and plan information for the best results.

Q: What led you to this career? And after more than 20 years working in healthcare, what makes this job so special to you?

SB: Caring for my beloved grandmother and helping my family navigate her care fueled my personal passion around supporting individuals in their healthcare journeys.

I landed my first healthcare job with North Carolina Medicaid, helping families with special needs navigate the system. I went on to work for nonprofits in HIV and AIDS case management and then moved into hospital systems. Early in my career, I developed skills in understanding the US healthcare market and translating the complexities into language that makes sense to people who are trying to make tough decisions about their medical care.

In my role here at Lash Group, I get to carry out my passion for helping people on a larger scale. I'm working on behalf of not just one or two families, but for a group of patients that may face affordability and access challenges.. There is the opportunity to provide services that remove barriers to care and meet their individual needs.

Q: How do you coach your team to have that same sort of passion you have?

SB: I am extremely blessed to have a diverse group of individuals, who are passionate and sharp and very committed to staying patient-focused. Each one realizes we are offering solutions that truly help patients. And they work through any client issues that may arise by taking ownership and collaborating with other departments within organization to solve the problem. The goal that drives my team is not as much about the bottom line, but about our brand meeting patients' needs and being an informed, trusted partner.

Q: Why do you think it's so important for every associate at Lash Group to feel responsible for building client relationships?

SB: As we talk with patients, providers or payers, each interaction is a touch point for building a positive client relationship. So, no matter where you sit in our organization, you are a part of our reputation—a reputation based on the patient coming first.

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About the Author

Shanna Barnes

Vice President, Business Development
Lash Group
Shanna Barnes, Vice President, Business Development, brings expertise in building long-term client relationships and delivering results. She works closely with manufacturers to help build all-encompassing service solutions that meet the needs of patients and providers. 
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