How Smartphones Will Transform Your Patient Relationships

Specialty Pharmacy TimesJuly/August 2013
Volume 4
Issue 4

Interactive, real-time, 24/7 patient connections will change the way patient care is delivered and offer new ways of doing business for specialty pharmacy.

Interactive, real-time, 24/7 patient connections will change the way patient care is delivered and offer new ways of doing business for specialty pharmacy.


While specialty drugs have been available for several decades, the rapid growth in both the quantity and cost of these drugs over the last few years has put specialty drug therapies in the spotlight.

As specialty drugs increase in prevalence, the specialty pharmacy may turn out to be at the very center of the accountable care movement. New reimbursement models tied to improving outcomes are emerging, and these may help to offset the continual decline in pharmacy margins.

However, accountable care organizations and insurers focused on the cost and performance of specialty drugs expect pharmacies to deliver high-touch services that deliver positive outcomes. While many specialty pharmacies are eager to attract new business, providing cost-effective services that meet increased expectations for patient care is a challenge.

Mobile Health App Communication Flow


One of the greatest challenges is to improve patient compliance, especially with specialty drugs. These medications often require focused, in-depth patient education; compliance monitoring; side effect management; and even injection technique education. Side effects can be extreme, and medication schedules can be confusing for the patient to manage. Drugs that are required by the FDA to have risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) programs require even closer surveillance and reporting.

While numerous studies show that early intervention, patient education, and treatment monitoring all improve compliance, they are not always easy to accomplish. Compliance monitoring has been difficult and expensive for decades.

Call center and mail communications are expensive and often ineffective. Call centers are often used to place regular calls to check on the patient’s status, but these calls frequently go to voicemail. Or, when contact is made, it’s not with the patients that are in the greatest need. In the worst case, call center staff try to minimize the time they spend with patients to meet call volume incentives.

The first alert the pharmacy may receive that the patient is struggling with compliance is failure to reorder at 30 or 45 days. At this point, intervention is much less effective. The patient may never complete their treatment or have already experienced serious and expensive side effects.

Patient Data Report


The rapid and widespread adoption of smartphones has opened a new, cost-effective channel to improve patient relationships. Interactive, real-time, 24/7 patient connections improve patient care and outcomes while reducing costs.

For the specialty pharmacy, new mobile patient relationship solutions provide real-time intelligence and the ability to reach patients with coaching, education, and reminders. These services improve the management of all types of drugs, including those that require REMS programs.

Early versions of mobile health or “mHealth” compliance apps focused on a single feature of compliance such as reminders, rewards, or exercise monitoring. Used by early technology adopters, they increased mHealth awareness, but did not significantly improve compliance or change the relationship patients have with their health care providers.

The next generation of mobile patient relationship solutions is built on powerful platforms that support 2-way communications between the patient, providers, and caregivers, as well as multiple, integrated compliance features. These platforms are built to handle the complexities of medication management for patients with 1 or more chronic diseases that require specialty medications.

Built with the patient’s needs in mind, apps can handle compliance reporting, goal monitoring, and biometric tracking from the leading smartphones as well as desktop computers for easier management, reporting, or use at home.

Patient data are consolidated in the platform for real-time analysis. Tracked daily and reported in easy-to-understand charts, these data give patients and clinicians unique insights into how the patient’s behaviors influence their wellness.

Medication Schedule

With the patient’s permission, the pharmacy can receive real-time alerts of skipped medications, as well as exception reports for biometrics that are outside predetermined thresholds.

Health care staff can proactively reach out to these patients to provide support, control side effects, and prevent serious complications. By focusing professional health services on the most critical patients, the pharmacy optimizes its resources—and provides high-touch care when the patient needs it the most.

In addition, as thousands of specialty drug users monitor their treatment, the database of patient-reported outcomes expands to provide insight into the most effective therapies.

Pharmacists engage patients through their smartphones in multiple ways:

  • Medication reminders simplify the most complex schedules and improve adherence. Reminders are set by the patient to their unique schedule. When delivered, they ask patients to confirm whether they took their medication. These real-time compliance data provide pharmacists with an alert for early intervention.
  • Reminders to enter biometrics or any type of goal data can be sent as well. For example, patients can rate their mood or pain level, report whether they exercised, make a journal entry, or report an adverse effect. Soon, manual entry of these types of data will be a thing of the past. Data from smart scales, blood pressure readers, sleep trackers, fitness trackers, and other mobile connected medical devices will automatically capture and transfer data for the patient into their health record.
  • Smartphones are ideal for delivering educational information. Patients opt in to receive educational information as articles or regular tweets to their smartphone or e-mail. They can also receive safety warnings, links to financial aid resources, and screening and immunization announcements.
  • Incentive programs can be tied to product usage, compliance rates, or improvement in key biometrics. Discount coupons or reward points can be delivered directly to the patient’s smartphone or e-mail.

From the patient’s point of view, integrated mobile health services give them control over their health, provide insight into their health behaviors, consolidate health information for sharing with others, and make it easier to follow their doctor’s orders.

Medical History


Patient relationship platforms coming to market are new, and both the software vendor and pharmacy client are testing functionality, revenue models, and integration partners.

While some of the largest pharmacy chains are building their own solutions, “Software as a Service” (SaaS) models are a great alternative for smaller chains and independents. In fact, they will likely be able to offer patients a more complete solution than the homegrown systems of the chains.

SaaS pricing is based on usage, so startup costs are reduced, and there are fewer long-term agreements. If the solution doesn’t work for you and your patients, you can change.

SaaS platforms are built with standard functionality so they deploy quickly, in weeks rather than years. Customer support and software updates for both the platform and patient apps are usually included in the monthly price. Instead of worrying about technology, you can focus on serving patients, and securing new business.

Finally, patient relationship software vendors will be building integration between smart devices, pharmacy management systems, and electronic health records. While these integrations have been painfully slow to develop, they are important in providing patients with a seamless experience.

Medication Compliance Report


Specialty pharmacies that differentiate themselves through patient relationships that deliver better outcomes will thrive in the new world of health care. New patient relationship platforms, patient mobile apps, and analytics make building high-touch, one-to-one relationships possible. With the right technology in place, forward-thinking pharmacies are positioned to collaborate with accountable care organizations. Physicians refer more patients. Payers celebrate lower health care costs. Pharmaceutical manufacturers reward increased sales. Most importantly, patients achieve the greatest benefit from their specialty drugs and enjoy a better quality of life.

Enterprise software marketing executive Pamela Swingley has spent more than 2 decades helping businesses of all types adopt technologies that improve their performance. A bit more of a geek than she’d like to admit, Pamela has contributed to the success of several technology companies, including ADP, Siebel Systems, and OnLink Technologies. Today, as the chief executive officer of Mobile PRM, her passion is to provide patient-centric solutions that make it easy for people to get well and stay well. Mobile PRM’s patient relationship management platform, mobile apps, and analytics improve chronic disease management, reduce care costs, and improve clinical outcomes.

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