Addressing health disparities through understanding
By Shemeka Johnson
Eliminating the deep disparities that exist in healthcare can at times seem like an impossible task. A complex web of factors determines a patient's access to medication and other care, including the environment in which they live, their education level, their income, the language they speak, the implicit biases of those around them, and other threads that get woven together.
But taking steps to close the gaps in access between diverse patient populations doesn't have to be complicated or difficult. Often, there are straightforward solutions to access barriers. Finding those solutions offers one concrete way to support social and racial equity in healthcare.
The first step for pharmaceutical manufacturers seeking to improve access to medication for marginalized populations is to gain a deep understanding of the patient population they are trying to serve.
At Lash Group, we are frequently tasked with figuring out precisely what prevents patients from accessing the therapies they need and using that information to help pharmaceutical companies create effective patient support programs. It becomes much easier to identify the obstacles patients face once we figure out where they are coming from. We are not only interested in the demographic boxes patients check—things like age, race, income, and gender—but also their financial literacy, health literacy, and cultural background.
Manufacturers find success in breaking down access barriers when they work with patient support specialists who develop a rapport with patients, offer patients the information they need in a way that's easy to understand, and are available when they need them. It's the kind of thing I do for free for those in my family and community, and it can make a real difference in how people relate to the healthcare system. It's also something that takes expertise and training. Every interaction a patient has with a support program should be tailored and genuine, whether it's a direct conversation or not. Patients who struggle with access to care need a resource that's not only helpful on a one-off basis, but also trustworthy and reliable.
"Every interaction a patient has with a support program should be tailored and genuine ..."
Getting to know patients' needs ahead of time can help avoid access barriers before they arise. But it's also important to create channels for patient feedback, which can make it easier to solve any problems that do come up.
In one case, Lash Group worked with a pharmaceutical company that saw declines in patient adherence to a therapy after its first year on the market. Using a mix of analytics and direct patient feedback, we determined that many patients using the therapy were commercially insured but were not well-versed in the commercial copay program. In some cases, patients paid for their first prescription entirely out of pocket and then skipped the refill because of the expense. We revamped our guide for nurses to help them better explain the commercial copay program, and we provided information that could be shared with specialty pharmacies to ensure they understood patient approval for the program as well. Eventually, we shifted toward having reimbursement specialists explain the program instead of nurses to ensure patients fully understood their healthcare benefits.
Each positive patient interaction and experience we create occurs on a small scale, but they add up to make a real impact.
Looking ahead, there are many ways in which manufacturers can address disparities in patient access. But the ability to achieve better outcomes will always depend on gaining a deep understanding of the patients we serve and meeting them where they are.