Docs, and pharma, are going to have to coax patients back

QUICK READ: It will be more than a year for the U.S. healthcare industry to return to normal, according to a new estimate from InCrowd. Physicians expect the new normal to be sometime around August 2021, once a vaccine for the coronavirus has been distributed. The delay, for some patients, could mean the difference between a lengthy hospital stay and Rx.

Routine appointment cancellations with doctors are down to just half of patients, compared to 73% in April. This is good news but one has to wonder if the people who need healthcare most, the +65 segment, are avoiding appointments because they are most at risk for the virus.

To get patients back into their doctor is going to require a coordinated effort between HCP’s and pharma. The message should be one of education, not fear. Doctors need to ensure patients that their offices are maintained and cleaned on a regular basis.

Since most physicians are using EHR’s they should be emailing their patients to let them know how important it is to maintain office visits. It’s going to require different communication with patient demographics. A Millennial should not get the same message as a Boomer.

Since pharma is so dependent on physicians for new product prescriptions they are going to have to communicate both the product benefits and the need to talk with their doctor. Research should have already been done to ask doctors if they are OK with patients requesting their products via email. Of course, it all depends on the disease state and the need for an in-depth diagnosis.

At one hospital the volume of heart attack patients fell by about 50% in March compared with the same month last year, A physician said that the notion that people have just stopped having heart attacks is “too good to be true.”

The other issue that may be keeping patients away from their doctor costs. As the pandemic caused staggering unemployment, medical care has become unaffordable for many.

Among those delaying care, he said, was a patient with metastatic cancer who was laid off while undergoing chemotherapy. He plans to stop treatments while he sorts out what to do when his health insurance coverage ends in a month.

NY Times

Per the Times nearly half of all Americans say they or someone they live with has delayed care since the onslaught of coronavirus, according to a survey last month from the Kaiser Family Foundation. While most of those individuals expected to receive care within the next three months, about a third said they planned to wait longer or not seek it at all.

Pharma has an opportunity here to work closely with HCP’s to develop messages that bring patients back to their offices. While it can be seen as an effort to increase sales the fact is that patients who delay care are gambling with their lives. An undiagnosed diabetes patient can do a lot of damage to his/her body if they are untreated.

DTC has changed because of this pandemic. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is a fool. A brand message about efficacy means nothing if it doesn’t motivate the patient to ask for an Rx. The message should be more around the end benefits for the patient and caregiver.

Oh, and about telehealth..

Of course the trade press is promoting telehealth as the future of healthcare. Rubbish!

There are plenty of circumstances where telehealth can be beneficial for patients but doctors need to see patients to make a diagnosis and evaluate their patients. A diabetic patient who continues to gain weight, for example, is a serious concern.

The financial models for telehealth are not yet in place. Too many HCP’s need to see patients to make ends meet. Telehealth is here no doubt but it’s not the savior of healthcare.

Some pharma companies are delaying the launch of new drugs because of the pandemic. That strategy is costing them money and isn’t beneficial for patients. Working closely with doctors we can get patients back into their doctor’s office.