Imagine booking a luxury international vacation.

A dedicated concierge arranges your hotels, your travel arrangements, and your daily itinerary. You barely lift a finger. From the outset, however, you realize something unusual. You have been booked on a discount airline with seats in the back of the coach section. You must wait at the airport to be picked up by a cramped, dilapidated taxi. Your “luxury” hotel is actually a two-star property in a bad part of town. Why pay for a luxury concierge only to have them book such shoddy amenities?

This is essentially what specialty drug patients experience when attempting to get on therapy: DocuSign forms, 1-800 numbers leading to an endless automated call center maze, more forms to fax, then moving on to another vendor with its own separate database.

Considering the pharmaceutical industry has spent billions of dollars and many years attempting to craft a concierge service for specialty patients, the typical patient journey is an unacceptable mess. Insisting patients complete a mountain of forms at the convenience of vendors ― not patients ― is the opposite of a luxury vacation. The onboarding process is hardly seamless. Adherence is a challenge, not a breeze.

Over the past decade, specialty drugs ― medicines needed to treat or mitigate rare and life-threatening conditions ― rocketed to become the top revenue driver for nearly every major pharmaceutical manufacturer. The journey for specialty patients is far more complicated than a trip to the counter of your local drugstore. More than a quarter of prescriptions and therapies are abandoned or never started at all, costing specialty drug manufacturers $76 billion in lost revenue annually. [1]

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Unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical industry leaders have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at improving the specialty patient journey. The industry as a whole has invested in a cornucopia of patient services and guidance resources, from apps to websites to other digital channels. This qualifies as an attempt at a red-carpet rollout.

Too often, however, this definition of “VIP treatment” translates to 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 across a range of business-to-consumer (B2C) enterprises. They might be convenient for one vendor at a single step of a long patient journey, but not for the patient. Just like asking patients to fill out a form, print it as a .pdf file, and return it to a business by fax is a dated method of data collection. It makes for a disjointed experience, a friction point along the patient journey. Above all else, this makes for a terribly impersonal process.

Hiring a hub or patient support vendor can help, but even this investment can be sabotaged by shortcuts that are convenient only to the vendors, not the patients, thus jeopardizing a patient’s path to treatment ― and lost revenue for the drug manufacturer. To win in this environment, stakeholders need to embrace the dominant force driving other sectors of the healthcare industry: interoperability. The specialty drug system, unfortunately, means stakeholders must live within a siloed system. It does not mean patients must engage with discrete vendors individually at their own inconvenience. By establishing interoperability and enforcing it on all their vendors, drug manufacturers can promote a mindset of collaboration and connectivity.

In the quest for patient-focused technologies that streamline the experience for specialty drug users, the winner will be those who not only meet the patients at the right moment but who also make it incredibly easy to act. DocuSign is the opposite of this ideal. This broad business transaction tool is a band-aid, an impermanent solution that’s “good enough for now.”

It’s a perfect example of an industry cobbling together a hodgepodge of solutions and hoping for the best.

The underlying leakage of patients will persist until pharmaceutical firms begin thinking holistically across the specialty patient journey. These patients are the VIPs. Their journey must be flawless. They need a spectacular first-class experience that eliminates any chance they won’t arrive at their destination.

[1] The Use of Medicines in the U.S. | Spending and Usage Trends and Outlook to 2025 IQVIA; institute Report, Online, May 27, 2021. Last accessed on August 18, 2022.

Featured image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash | Used with permission.

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