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Patient support in the time of COVID-19: Five ways to adapt

By AmerisourceBergen

Five ways pharma can ensure access, affordability and adherence during a global pandemic.
COVID unemployed and worried

As social distancing and stay-at-home orders became commonplace in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients chose to put off non-urgent doctor's visits, eliminating a common point of contact with their healthcare providers. At the same time, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and, as a result, their insurance coverage.

Many pharmaceutical manufacturers already utilize patient assistance programs (PAPs) to help patients with issues related to medication affordability and adherence. But the COVID-19 pandemic is now requiring them to reassess patient needs and determine how to adjust their programs accordingly.

“We're still early in evaluating what's happening with patients right now," says Nicole Dunn, Vice President of Client Delivery at Lash Group. “We've seen patient assistance programs, for example, expand their income and insurance coverage criteria, recognizing that some individuals will need assistance for the short term. We're also seeing manufacturers reposition some of their clinical support since patients are unable or unwilling to go to the doctor right now."

Here are five adjustments manufacturers can consider to ensure patients experience uninterrupted access to medication — during the coronavirus pandemic and in the months that follow.

  1. Expanding patient assistance. Patients who would typically not qualify for patient assistance programs may now face new financial pressures. Manufacturers should consider expanding eligibility for such programs, even temporarily, so that cash-strapped patients do not ration their medication or forego it entirely. Manufacturers may also want to expand the types of services patient assistance programs offer. For instance, instead of refilling patients' prescriptions on a monthly basis, manufacturers can help patients get 90-day refills to reduce the frequency of refills or trips to the pharmacy. Manufacturers can also connect patients with resources that would benefit them if they have been impacted by COVID-19.
  2. Thinking outside the doctor's office. Under normal circumstances, many patients learn about and enroll in patient assistance programs at the doctor's office. But during the pandemic, when most people are not making in-person visits, manufacturers may need to set up a website where patients can learn about and enroll in patient assistance programs. Consider a direct patient portal that makes submitting documentation from home into the program easy.
  3. Exploring alternative coverage. Many people who were accustomed to getting their health insurance through their employer will now have to navigate enrolling in COBRA, Medicaid or a marketplace plan. A disruption in insurance coverage could also cause a disruption in access to medication. To ensure that doesn't happen, patient assistance programs can work with patients directly to help them understand their coverage options and enroll in a health plan.
  4. Providing personalized virtual assistance. Patients who aren't seeing their doctors in person may have lingering questions about their medication that could affect adherence, especially for patients with chronic or rare diseases. Patient assistance programs can help by offering virtual injection and administration training.
  5. Streamlining benefits verification. The process of verifying a patient's benefits can disrupt patient care even under normal circumstances. In order to make things go as smoothly as possible amid shifting patient coverage, manufacturers should determine if electronic benefit verification solutions are right for their programs and for the patients they support. Other technologies, like “digital assistants" that make automated calls to payers, can also help the process go more quickly for patients.

While COVID-19 has thrown patients a lot of curveballs, it doesn't have to stop them from getting the medication they need. Manufacturers can make a few strategic adjustments in order to ensure their therapies remain affordable and accessible to every patient who needs them.

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