The "beyond the pill" movement: where are we now?

The shifting healthcare landscape has seen beyond the pill transform from optional extra to essential opportunity. So, what prompted this change? Why are pharma companies suddenly waking up to the possibilities of non-clinical differentiation and what does it mean for the industry as a whole?

Beyond the pill principles have been well accepted for some time now. Non-clinical solutions - digital, financial or care-based - boost patient outcomes and benefit the entire health system.

Yet, even while accepting the clear advantages to patients and healthcare providers (HCPs), pharma companies have failed to make non-clinical offerings a priority. Until now. Marcus Deans, cofounder of Eradigm, reports.

From efficacy to experience

Traditionally, patient support programmes (PSPs) and supplemental services came into play at the end of a drug’s lifecycle, when all clinical features had been exploited.

However, we are reaching a point when many common disease areas are satisfied, and drug companies can no longer rely on new products and features to make their margins.

Faced with a saturated market, and products with little to distinguish them, pharma companies are looking for alternative avenues in which to compete.

Pharma companies can differentiate their offering by enhancing their services and improving the patient experience. The benefits are twofold.

In the short-term, PSPs and supplemental services — such as financial support and reimbursement, disease education, awareness programmes and field services — offer a competitive advantage and help achieve patient buy-in. They also support with long-term compliance, making a patient more likely to stay on a prescribed drug.

Comprehensive PSPs also help pharma organisations position themselves as companies who care. This is of particular importance for patients with terminal and chronic conditions that require more complex treatment.

In the absence of a cure, these 360-programs provide patients with a vital source of communication and support.

Digital health solutions

Digital tools have always been an important aspect of beyond the pill. But, only recently have technologies advanced enough to hold their own against clinical solutions.

Marcus Deans

These technologies have evolved from basic wellness management to prescription-based therapies for some of the world’s most complex diseases.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, pharma companies can now meet mounting pressure to diversify by pursuing adjuvant partnerships for existing portfolio products, unlocking added value without radically redefining their market position.

Shift from volume to value

The emerging world of gene therapy has been front and centre in conversations around value-based pricing. These high-cost one-off treatments have the potential to deliver strong patient outcomes and generate net savings to healthcare systems long-term.

But, with prices ranging from $300,000 to $2 million per treatment, cost remains a significant barrier to access. Robust PSPs are therefore vital to their delivery, whether in the form of reimbursement mechanisms, educational materials, transportation or dedicated support nurses.

With products this specialised, and with such high margins, PSP costs such as transportation become negligible. For patients, however, it could mean the difference between accessing a lifesaving treatment or being left behind.

Impact of COVID-19

The pandemic has thrust many beyond the pill considerations out of the abstract and into the present. Nationwide lockdowns and social distancing measures have accelerated the demand for digital health solutions.

Meanwhile, remote healthcare delivery and the wider economic effects of the pandemic have put access disparities firmly in the public eye. It has highlighted not only the value, but necessity, of PSPs to ensure patient access requirements are met.

This has forced Big Pharma to confront questions about its purpose; is it to deliver drugs or to improve health?

If the latter, pharma companies must focus less on speed of access to market, and more on impact of access to patients. That means valuing beyond the pill Services and PSPs as more than convenient ornamentation or marketing ploy.

Strengthening the health ecosystem

When implemented well, beyond the pill strategies and PSPs have the power to uplift the entire health ecosystem.

But we cannot simply pay lip service at the altar of patient-centricity. For non-clinical strategies to deliver real impact, we must provide fundamental, not ornamental, value to patients and HCPs.

The true impact of a PSP is difficult to measure. But, as they become more commonplace within the healthcare landscape, payers will demand evidence of their value and pharma companies must be ready to provide it.

Without provable value, beyond the pill ceases to be healthcare’s brave new world and becomes nothing more than a hollow marketing gambit.

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