In an effort to keep pharma marketers connected and informed during this unprecedented time, DTC Perspectives recently hosted a webinar – Virtual DTC National: A COVID-19 Focused Event – that addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has so far affected patients and other pharmaceutical and healthcare stakeholders. Topics included high-need patients, point of care, health management, messaging, and temporary and permanent changes to how pharma does business. Following are the key takeaways from the event.

Industry Views: A Chance to Be Heroic
The webinar opened with a conversation between DTC’s Bob Erhlich and Frank Chipman, SVP at Advanced Insights & Marketing, who spoke about the latest industry news, including the shift in public perception of pharma given its critical role in developing treatments for COVID-19. We have an opportunity, Chipman noted, for the first time in more than a decade, to become heroes, and pointed out that pharma has done a very good job of pivoting to focus messaging on the pandemic and help people recognize that science is the key to getting back to a more normal life. He also advised that for companies with medications that are not COVID-19-related, spending on marketing efforts might be wasted right now. Erhlich and Chipman discussed the rise of telemedicine – a theme throughout the webinar – and whether it will continue post-pandemic. Telemedicine, said Chipman, is here to stay, but to what degree is yet to be seen.

Ensuring Care for High-Needs Patients
In a session titled COVID-19 High-Need Patient Tracked Findings, InCrowd CEO and president Dan Fitzgerald and Meghan Oates-Zelesky, SVP of Marketing, talked about the findings from their research on high-need patients (i.e., immunocompromised patients and those with chronic conditions). One finding of note: patients with severe conditions are afraid to leave the house to pick up medications or visit their healthcare providers and are canceling appointments and treatment due to fear of contracting the novel coronavirus/COVID-19. In their research, they asked patients how long they could go without purchasing more medications; 70% said they have a 30-day supply; 12% said they have more than a 3-month supply. In terms of how confident patients are now in facilities’ ability to treat COVID-19, compared with how they felt when surveyed by InCrowd in March, confidence grew to 45% in early May vs 22% in March, and 42% of those surveyed now say they are confident they can get tested vs 22% in March. Regarding telehealth and online prescription ordering, Fitzgerald and Oates-Zeleksy agreed that it’s likely here to stay and said that among those surveyed, 50% say they are using telehealth; 45% say they will keep doing so after the pandemic; and 39% prefer to do online ordering going forward.

Point of Care Must Evolve
DTC’s Bob Erhlich moderated a roundtable panel discussion, Impacts at the Point of Care: A Panel Discussion, which featured Karen Newmark, executive director of the Point of Care Communication Council (PoC3) and CEO and founder of a strategic marketing consulting firm; David Linetsky, SVP, Life Sciences at Phreesia; and Linda Rushau, chief client officer at PatientPoint. A key theme of the discussion was the need and ability of pharmaceutical organizations to adapt to changes in patient expectations. COVID-19 forced telehealth to evolve rapidly, Newmark commented; when we think about the power of virtual health, patients want information on their terms, but telehealth falls short in some cases and can’t replace all in-person visits. With respect to “what comes after,” the panelists agreed that attitudes toward communal spaces and objects may stay the same – patients may want to use their own digital devices (smartphones, tablets) rather than shared tools for things like registration, referrals, payments, etc. Rushau noted that what plays out in general society shows up in the doctor’s office, i.e., more sanitization, more non-touch items. PatientPoint, said Rushau, has employed QR codes in their products in place of touchable devices to provide touch-free access to information and education for patients and HCP office staff.

The Aftermath of COVID-19
Wendy Blackburn, Intouch’s EVP of marketing and communications, along with Mark Bard, co-founder of The DHC Group, and Keith Burke, VP, Neuroscience at Merz, previewed Intouch and DHC Group’s soon-to-be-released whitepaper, The Aftermath: How COVID-19 Will Forever Change Pharma. In April and May 2020, Intouch and DHC Group conducted interviews with 30 senior-level stakeholders; surveyed 50+ pharma executives, 112 physicians and 157 patient influencers; and received extensive input from thought leaders to produce the whitepaper. During their session, Blackburn, Bard and Burke talked about how pharma can best serve patients and healthcare providers. Blackburn noted that this is a time when patients need us most: they are facing financial struggles and the repercussions of skipping health visits, or they may have undiagnosed conditions because they’ve skipped visits; There’s an opportunity, she said, for pharma to do more to provide information to patients, increase support for physicians and generally step up our overall level of service. Bard stated that it’s time to reinvent patient support programs, ease financial burden, improve patient experience and adherence, take care of mental health, and provide more digital tools to sales reps. He also shared these three takeaways:

  • Patients need us more than ever.
  • There’s an opportunity for the pharma industry to reinvent itself and come back better than before.
  • Pharma has a chance to redeem its reputation.

Reshaping the Message
In a second roundtable discussion, Navigating & Reshaping Our Industry, DTC’s Erhlich spoke with Howard Courtemanche, VMLY&R’s chief business officer; Jeff Erb, global president of engagement at McCann Health; and Jeff Greene, VP of strategy at Evoke about concerns facing pharma marketers, as well as how media and messaging has been affected. Erb warned against using COVID-19 as a vehicle to drive marketing communications; people are still suffering from other chronic conditions, he said, and we should stay the course on that messaging for their ongoing needs. He also pointed out that pharma marketers should employ data to understand people’s behaviors and what is important to them; marketers should surround people with educational information to connect with them about their condition. Meanwhile, Greene said that at Evoke, they have created a COVID-19 task force because it’s never been more important to look beyond the data and think about the patients who are mentally and financially stressed. Erb and Greene agreed that as a result of the pandemic, people are more health-centric than ever; for example, patients are now questioning the ingredients of medications and they want transparency about where medications are manufactured. Ultimately, the said, pharma has an opportunity to provide financial-related messages and other messages of support during this global health crisis.

 

If you weren’t able to attend the webinar, there will be more, as DTC will continue to hold them monthly all summer.

If you’d like to receive Intouch and DHC Group’s whitepaper, The Aftermath: COVID-19 Insights & Recommendations: How the Pandemic Will Forever Change Pharma Sales & Marketing, register here.

Looking to catch up on all things pharma and COVID-19? Read our collection of POVs.