Boosting the impact of patient services

New research from Accenture has revealed that adoption of patient support services hasn’t improved since 2015 despite increasing pharma investment. The company’s Jennifer Spada tells us how companies can boost awareness of their programmes to improve patient outcomes.

As part of its drive towards patient centricity, the pharma industry has increasingly been building patient support programmes that can offer beyond-the-pill services to patients. The market for patient engagement solutions was worth $8.8 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach $18.68 billion in 2022, an annual growth rate of 16.2%.

These programmes can help guide a patient through complex information about diagnosis and treatment choices, or aid them with information on the medical and financial aspects of care, and also include day-to-day care management such as medication reminders, symptom monitoring, and nursing support.

Research has shown that when patients utilise these services, adherence increases, quality of life improves, hospitalisations and ER visits are reduced, and survival rates rise.

For example, one study looked at lung cancer patients using a smartphone app to monitor 13 common symptoms. This allowed the care team to monitor patients remotely and intervene when needed, which resulted in a seven-month overall survival benefit and reduced hospitalisations.

Meanwhile, asthma patients using an inhaler sensor and GPS were able to understand and avoid environmental triggers – with a 78% reduction in rescue inhaler use and 48% more symptom-free days – and diabetes patients using a patient portal, especially those with multiple chronic conditions, had fewer emergency room visits and hospital stays.

But a new survey from Accenture has shown that these services are failing to reach as many patients as they could be – even at a time when COVID-19 means patients are finding far more channels through which to get medical information and are more confident about managing their own health.

Back in 2015, the company’s report ‘Patient Services, Pharma’s best kept secret’ found that patient awareness of these services was low, dampening wider adoption. On average, less than one out of five patients (19%) were aware of the services available to them, and awareness was low across all therapeutic areas, ranging from 18% for bone, lung and heart conditions to a slightly higher 21% for cancer and immune diseases.

Now, five years later, the 2020 follow-up patient services survey – ‘Move the Needle: Amplifying the signal for patient services’ – has found that levels of awareness and adoption have not changed significantly (see figure 1). In fact, just 16% of the 12,000 patients surveyed were aware of any service.

Patient awareness was highest for information services and lowest for financial support, such as help dealing with payers and guidance on payment options.

And while 80% of patients surveyed rated the services they used as valuable or extremely valuable, this did not translate into increased adoption or awareness.

Jennifer Spada, a managing director leading Accenture’s patient research, says that the results came as a surprise to the survey team.

“None of us expected to see no change at all, especially when pharma has increased its investment in these services, understands the patient journey better and has improved capabilities to access data compared to five years ago.”

As a result, the team looked into what factors might be holding the adoption of patient services back, and have published their recommendations alongside the survey results.

Simplifying patient service offerings

One of Accenture’s key findings was that the landscape for patient services is extremely fragmented, with too many individual services available for HCPs and patients to keep track of. As the report puts it, “the signal is getting lost” for patients.

“The increase in specialty products over the last five years has led to an increase in tailored patient services,” Spada explains. “Many of these are branded and drug-specific, and very few of these are integrated into an end-to-end programme.”

Despite the ongoing growth in investment in patient services, much of this has been into new, individual services rather than cohesive, above-brand programmes.

“If you look in any oncology periodical, for example, there will be a page full of advertisements for all the patient services available to cancer patients. There’s so many of them that it’s hard for both patients and HCPs to sift through.”

This means pharma companies should strive to make their services easy to understand.

“We believe that by simplifying offerings, and presenting them as part of a cohesive programme rather than as independent solutions, companies can make it easier for patients and physicians to understand and access the support needed,” Spada says.

“One solution could be to look for synergies across a portfolio or across a therapeutic area and offering above-brand services that cover several drugs.”

For example, she says that companies could offer all their oncology patient services under one umbrella programme.

“Doing this all above brand creates the simplicity needed to drive awareness and adoption of a programme and more easily communicate it to physicians. It also allows companies to tailor the support needed for each patient, because they have a variety of therapies and indications within their portfolio.”

The report concludes this point by saying that pharma should “design patient services for value”, building them as a structural element of holistic care that improves patient outcomes, rather than as an “occasional safety net”.

Orienting communication around value

The report’s second recommendation is for pharma to improve communication of these services, creating a “surround sound” approach to amplify their messages.

“Companies need to clearly and consistently deliver concise, evidence-based messages to HCPs and patients about what services are offered, and specifically about the value they’re expected to create for patients,” Spada says.

“You really need to make sure that communications with physicians are simple, clear and convenient so that they can provide the appropriate information and recommendations to their patients.”

Accenture’s survey shows that HCPs are the preferred source of prescription, medical and patient services information for patients (see figure 2) – so Spada adds that it is important to coordinate with doctors to make sure these communications get through to end-users.

Harnessing new channels

The results also show that community support groups, pharma company websites and social media are the most popular sources consulted by patients during treatment after doctors. In fact, all three of these channels saw their usage rise over the last five years, perhaps partly due to COVID-19 (see figure 3).

Spada says pharma should use these channels to help “augment and complement” the patient services recommendations that HCPs give.

“There are opportunities for online chats, video conference software and other digital technologies to act as additional communication channels with patients, and to allow more ways for patients to receive the support and services that they need for their treatment journey.

“We’re recommending that companies select multiple channels to augment their messages,” she adds.  “Our survey has shown that COVID-19 has shifted patients towards greater adoption of digital technology, and it’s critical that pharma invests in establishing these capabilities.”

Forty-four percent of patients said they have had more virtual conversations with HCPs and 37% have used telemedicine more since COVID-19. Meanwhile, 39% said they have found far more ways to get information and help during the crisis, and 43% of patients said the crisis has proven to them that they can do a lot more to manage their condition themselves.

Furthermore, when asked about the use of patient services during the pandemic, 84% of patients said that the services they used – such as remote monitoring and payment support – were valuable or extremely valuable.

The report adds that this increased openness to the use of technology in the management and delivery of care could be a “game-changer” for patient services, but the biggest barrier remains low patient awareness of these digital tools. Just 13% of patients surveyed said they were aware of services such as remote monitoring and patient portals.

“There’s a huge opportunity here if pharma companies can both communicate and offer their services through these channels,” Spada says.

Because of this, another of the report’s recommendations is that pharma companies need to make sure their services are part of the “daily mix” for patients and HCPs.

“We live in a liquid world with smartphones and screens everywhere, so you need to make sure that the communication and interaction with these services happens within technologies that are already in use,” says Spada.

“Services shouldn’t be something extra outside of an HCP or patient’s daily activities; they should be integrated within those activities.”

One example of this could be integrating patient service offerings into electronic medical record systems, so that when a drug is prescribed the relevant services are listed on the doctor’s screen.

No silver bullet

Nevertheless, patient services can be as varied as the therapy areas they are related to or the patients using them – and Spada says that, ultimately, every pharma company is going to have to find their own answer.

“There’s no silver bullet,” she says, “but the recommendations we’ve set forth in the report are going to be some of the key components.”

Spada notes that none of these recommendations involve completely reimagining patient services – rather, companies need to “refine the model” into something more service- and outcomes-oriented.

“Our hypothesis is that the current model has reached its limit, but if we can simplify offerings, better articulate the value of services, communicate more effectively, and leverage relevant technologies, then in five years we could have almost all patients using patient services to manage their treatments.

“It will take a lot of hard work to do that, but if pharma is able to achieve this we could see massive benefits to cost of care, health outcomes and overall quality of life for patients.”

The views and opinions expressed in this document are meant to stimulate thought and discussion. As each business has unique requirements and objectives, these ideas should not be viewed as professional advice with respect to the business.

Copyright © 2020 Accenture. All rights reserved. Accenture and its logo are trademarks of Accenture.

About the interviewee

Jennifer Spada

Jennifer Spada is a managing director at Accenture’s Life Sciences Practice, leading the Intelligent Launch offering. She has significant experience in the pharmaceutical industry across both commercial strategy and marketing roles in both primary care and specialty markets. Jen has built launch strategies and execution plans for more than 15 new products and indications.

About Accenture


Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services in strategy and consulting, interactive, technology and operations, with digital capabilities across all of these services. We combine unmatched experience and specialised capabilities across more than 40 industries — powered by the world’s largest network of Advanced Technology and Intelligent Operations centres. With 509,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture brings continuous innovation to help clients improve their performance and create lasting value across their enterprises. Visit us at

About the author


George Underwood is a senior member of the pharmaphorum editorial team, having previously worked at PharmaTimes and prior to this at Pharmafocus. He is a trained journalist, with a degree from Bournemouth University and current specialisms that include R&D, digital and M&A.

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