Technology Corner: May/June 2014

We recently read a report from Accenture that really got us thinking about what patients expect from their pharmacists and pharmacies. The report is titled “Great Expectations: Why Pharma Companies Can’t Ignore Patient Services” and can be found here: SiteCollectionDocuments/PDF/Accenture-Great-Expectations-WhyPharma- Companies-Cant-Ignore-Patient-Services-Survey.pdf. As the title suggests, the report focuses on patients’ expectations of pharmaceutical companies, but it also includes specific expectations that patients have of pharmacists. Beyond specific mentions of pharmacists in the report, we believe there are some important, overarching themes from questions about pharma that also apply to pharmacy.

The survey was conducted between September and October 2013, and included 2,000 U.S. adults 18 years or older with an annual household income of $25,000 or more. Responses were collected online from individuals currently taking a short-term (e.g., antibiotic), long-term (e.g., chronic disease such as hypertension), or lifestyle medication (e.g., contraceptive). We present the results aggregated across all medication types (i.e., short term, long term, etc.), but readers are encouraged to visit the link above, as some results are stratified by medication types.

Three out of four respondents want pharma to provide information and services to support patients’ management of their own health, giving additional support to the notion that an increasing number of your current patients, and likely the majority of your future patients, desire more control of their health. This movement in healthcare has been an underlying theme of several of our past columns. We believe that patients’ voices are going to get louder and louder in their efforts to find and implement tools that support their self-management activities. We are glad to see that pharmacy management system vendors are developing and offering technology to support your practice’s provision of these patient-facing services (e.g., portals and mobile apps).

The Accenture report asked about specific services that patients desired from pharmaceutical companies (see box). Reviewing the list, it’s important to remember that patients were asked which services (select any) that they would like to receive from a pharmaceutical company. Responses could reflect respondents’ perceptions of which services they feel pharma is best able to provide, or responses could simply indicate which services are most desired. In either case, we see a message for pharmacists.

What Patients Want 

In decreasing order of the percentage of patients indicating they desired a service:

Rewards programs: 63%
Product information: 53%
Financial assistance: 51%
Measurement tracking and alerts: 35%
Access to support forums: 29%
Physician referrals: 28%
Access to clinical trials: 28%
Nurse support on the phone: 26%
Lifestyle coaching and training: 23%
Adherence support: 19%
In-home nurse support: 8%

Patients who want a particular service are going to get it wherever they can. For example, more than half indicated that they wanted product information. If your patient is able to get information on a specific product more easily from you or your website than they can from a pharmaceutical company, don’t you expect that they will be happy to get the information from someone they have a personal relationship with? And if they are taking a medication that requires routine tracking (35% indicated this was desired), wouldn’t they be more likely to trust their local pharmacist as a hub to help manage the values and activities they track? We believe the list above provides a valuable starting point for pharmacists to identify services that could be explored for their utility among their patient population. Every item isn’t necessarily a natural fit (e.g., in-home nurse support), but there are plenty to choose from.

We may be biased, but we also believe that pharmacists’ focus on the patient’s well-being provides a unique perspective that is not concerned with the market share of a particular medication.

The report also explored when patients want pharmaceutical companies to initiate services. Nearly three of four respondents identified medication therapy initiation as the best time to start an outreach service. Examples of such services include help determining if a medication is appropriate for the patient and information on how to take the medication. However, half of the respondents also indicated that outreach services would be welcome after starting a new medication or when they are considering changing medications. Examples of these services include information on side effects, help with adherence, connecting with other patients with similar health issues, and comparison with alternative medications. Whether it’s at the initiation of therapy or during a change, pharmacists are clearly well qualified to provide the services suggested. We may be biased, but we also believe that pharmacists’ focus on the patient’s well-being provides a unique perspective that is not concerned with the market share of a particular medication.

One particular service desired of pharmaceutical companies is not necessarily quite as easy a nut for pharmacists to crack as others. Respondents consistently identified financial assistance as a service desired from pharma, especially among individuals on long-term medications. Financial assistance is different from loyalty/reward programs, which pharmacies do offer. In this instance, we believe pharmacists’ best approach is to be aware of financial-assistance programs from pharma that their patients may be eligible for, and help their patients apply for these programs. The service will still be provided by pharma, but the pharmacist facilitates the patient’s efforts to gain access to the financial-assistance program.

Reaching Out

Going back to the services that pharmacists are more likely to directly provide to patients, the Accenture survey asked respondents to rank their preferred methods of receiving outreach regarding services. Pharmacists were explicitly included as one option in this question. Respondents ranked the following methods as preferred forms of contact from pharmacists: email (73%), printed information (72%), website (64%), mobile app (38%), live support like Web chat or phone (37%), and social media (15%). Here we have clear indicators that methods you currently use (printed information, phone, and website) are valuable to patients. We also see that methods potentially used less frequently by pharmacists (email and mobile apps) are desired by patients. Social media were preferred by a smaller group of respondents at this time.

As we wrote at the beginning, this Accenture report focused on what patients want from pharma. Does this apply to pharmacists? We believe it does, including and beyond the questions that specifically included pharmacists. For those services desired by patients and that pharmacists can provide, the report serves as a useful starting point to begin a dialogue with your patients about what truly matters to them. Can pharmacists do it? Again, yes. Will patients or some other party pay for this? Yes, some do, but not if you don’t provide the services and ask for payment. One need look no further than pharmacy-based clinics and immunization services to identify current examples of pharmacists providing access to services that were traditionally offered by others. Many readers are likely already providing some of these services. We would like to hear about your experiences — positive and negative. CT

Brent I. Fox, Pharm.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor, and Bill G. Felkey, M.S., is professor emeritus, in the Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy, Harrison School of Pharmacy, Auburn University. They can be reached at foxbren@ and