The COVID-19 pandemic further revealed — and exacerbated — longstanding health inequity. Stakeholders are now becoming more intentional about understanding and addressing the disparities that affect access and health outcomes.
As a result, biopharmaceutical companies, with the Food and Drug Administration support, are increasing representation in clinical trials. By recruiting participants who reflect the broader population, trial sponsors are ensuring that treatments are safe and effective for everyone.
However, while increasing inclusion in clinical trials is essential, it represents only a fraction of the industry’s opportunity — and responsibility — to effect change. We also need to increase health equity in how treatments are brought to market and delivered to patients.
Unfortunately, the industry’s longstanding treatment paradigm focuses on patients who can successfully navigate a complex and fragmented healthcare system. As a result, many vulnerable patients end up lost in a labyrinth, often feeling pushed to avoid, stop or ration treatments.
Thankfully, there are industry services that help patients afford and access their medication; resources that are critical investments. Yet, by peering through a health equity lens, it is clear they are not enough. Other types of health inequities, beyond income, can lead to poor outcomes or adherence issues. Many of these disparities arise from deep-rooted psycho-emotional barriers, social or disease stigmas, or a historical mistrust of the healthcare system.
The following are ways commercial teams can thoughtfully utilize their patient support programs (PSPs) to drive equitable outcomes and ensure patients feel more confident and adept at disease and treatment management.
Uncover the “who” and “why” of underserved patients. Data science can help define and identify underserved populations within a therapeutic area, especially those not enrolling in or disengaging from your PSPs. While factors such as race and income are common drivers of inequity, others exist — geography, education, sex, gender identity, immigration status and many more. By employing the right data strategies, complex interrelated treatment barriers can be identified and followed with targeted solutions.
Leverage clinical trial learnings. For new product launches, consider how to carry R&D learnings through to commercialization. For instance, identify those engagement techniques that proved effective in recruiting underserved patients. Examine the nuances in how patients reacted to outreach and responded to treatment. Consider who patients responded best to during the trial — a physician, a nurse — to determine who they should interact with in your PSP.
Use behavioral science. Data is invaluable in identifying the “who” and “why” of inequity, but the power of the human element is essential. Employ behavioral science principles to interpret qualitative and quantitative data that drives deep and actionable health equity insights. Use the results to tailor outreach and provide holistic engagements that alleviate the unique barriers underserved groups face.
Commit to long-term change. Striving for health equity is an ongoing journey. The required level of change is significant, and results will not be instant. Still, it is critical to move forward with conviction. Start with small experiments focused on a discrete equity issue in your existing programs. Use pilots to test and refine your proposed solutions. Whether you’re developing a new PSP or evolving a mature one, keep measuring and optimizing.
Improving the length and quality of lives is every biopharmaceutical company’s mission. The industry has always excelled at developing treatments. The next frontier of innovation is equitable delivery of medicines and empowering individuals to confidently stay on treatments. In this way, commercial teams can make significant contributions. Visit IQVIA Patient Services to learn how IQVIA combines insights, behavioral science and clinical expertise to address diverse patient needs.