Launching field services in the midst of COVID-19

By Melissa Mulchahey

How field services teams are equipped to identify and overcome barriers to access, even in the midst of a crisis like COVID-19

When a pharmaceutical manufacturer launches a new product or seeks to expand access to an existing therapy, a team of experienced field reimbursement and access specialists (FRAS) can be a major asset. Field services teams help educate providers' offices about patient assistance programs and how to navigate access and reimbursement barriers. They collaborate with other manufacturer partners to serve as a key stakeholder in the provider and patient support matrix.

Patients need the help now more than ever

Some manufacturers may hesitate to launch a new field services operation amid the upheaval caused by COVID-19, given the currently restricted in-office access environment. But with patients continuing to face barriers to access during the pandemic, such support and education are now more critical than ever. In recent months, leading field services partners have developed new virtual engagement strategies that are both acutely attuned to the challenges of the current moment and likely to outlast it.

The best field services teams have played a critical role in providing strategic insights to their manufacturer clients. They help manufacturers understand how patients and providers have been, and continue to be, impacted by COVID-19 and which methods and types of education and support activities are most effective.

COVID-19 has impacted patient access to therapies ranging from novel and orphan products to widely used medications. Many pharmaceutical manufacturers have adjusted their patient support programs during the pandemic to accommodate patients who have experienced a disruption in their health insurance or a loss of income. They've also implemented additional mechanisms such as enhanced patient and provider portals, expanded eligibility, and extended enrollment periods. These updated access and support services—and any enhancements that might be made to them—are only useful if providers are informed of them.

"Updated access and support services—and any enhancements that might be made to them—are only useful if providers are informed of them."

 

Educating providers remotely

Even before the pandemic, awareness of patient support services was low. Fewer than one in five patients knew about the assistance available to them from manufacturers, while only 40% of healthcare providers were “very aware" of manufacturer-sponsored services for their patients. Now, patients need more assistance than ever, and even greater challenges exist around communicating with them about how to access that support.

In the past, patients frequently learned about patient assistance programs at the doctor's office. But with the arrival of COVID-19, patients became far less likely to make in-person healthcare appointments, and many providers shifted to virtual visits via telehealth. Providers are dealing with their own technological, reimbursement, and patient access challenges as a result of this upheaval, meaning a high level of adaptability and transformation is needed at the physician practice level, as well as at the manufacturer access and reimbursement team level.

With the right approach and technology, field access and reimbursement specialists are equipped to help with all of these challenges. They can virtually update providers on the recent changes to existing access programs while also continuing to provide education for providers and their staff on access and reimbursement solutions. The key to doing all this during the COVID-19 crisis is to have a sizeable virtual toolkit and to remain as flexible as possible.

Best practices from the "virtual field"

In some cases, adapting simply means recognizing that some clients are comfortable meeting over web-based video conferencing, while others prefer phone or email. In others, it means changing engagement strategies to accommodate provider and staff fatigue or limited availability while boosting collaboration with other sales and support associates to identify provider staff educational needs. Dealing with the limitations of COVID-19 has also required field services teams to find new approaches to their work, such as “virtual field observations" that allow managers to remotely monitor and coach field reimbursement and access managers as they engage with customers.

By continuing proactive and reactive outreach—now using virtual technologies—field services teams can identify access barriers as they arise. The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that, in some cases, a simple technological fix can make a huge difference. For instance, based on intel gathered in the field, Xcenda's field services teams found that some providers could not submit their copay claims in a timely manner during the pandemic because of staffing shortages. The recommendation to the manufacturer: work with their copay program on the feasibility of extending submission deadlines. Another challenge field services teams have uncovered is that patients and healthcare providers utilizing telehealth technology sometimes have difficulty providing their signatures to opt into patient assistance programs. The recommendation to the manufacturer: implement Adobe® Sign to collect signed enrollment forms digitally.

Looking ahead, the goal is to continue to leverage technology to improve field access and reimbursement services. One way to do this is to continue evolving digital platforms that further integrate field services and patient support services to maximize patient and provider access to care.

Ultimately, the field services capabilities developed during the COVID-19 era are likely to benefit patients, providers, and manufacturers well into the future.

Learn more

Find out how to add virtual field support to your access program


About the Author

Melissa Mulchahey

Vice President, Field Services Client Engagement and Business Development
Xcenda
View Bio