The Hubbub on Hubs: Stakeholder Perceptions of Assistance Programs

A recent webinar from Zitter Health Insights highlighted the role of hubs and how these patient assistance programs are viewed by various stakeholders in the health care space.

A recent webinar from Zitter Health Insights highlighted the role of hubs and how these patient assistance programs are viewed by various stakeholders in the health care space.

Generally speaking, a “hub” is just it sounds — a group of supportive services radiating from a central point. At the center of the hub is the drug therapy, and the items surrounding it – including patient assistance programs, copay offset programs, foundational support, reimbursement assistance, disease outreach, access and distribution help, and physician outreach – each play an important role in keeping the wheel of health in motion.

Zitter Health Insight’s webinar held on August 20, 2013 on copay offset programs was geared toward pharmaceutical marketing agencies, but the data presented in it had important implications beyond the average marketing plan. The group measured stakeholder awareness of 3 manufacturer-created copay offset programs and program utilization by patients. By looking at programs from Genentech, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline, the report authors determined that physician awareness of Genentech’s hub is significantly higher than that of GSK’s multi-brand hub and Pfizer’s single-brand hubs. In addition, Genentech’s multi-brand hub outperformed the GSK and Pfizer hubs in terms of foundational assistance utilization.

When asked about what makes Genentech’s programs more visible than those of other manufacturers, Chris Wheeler, director of copay strategies, Zitter Health Insights, told Specialty Pharmacy Times, “It’s a well-marketed and executed program. I think Genentech does a good job of promoting to oncologists.”

According to the Zitter report, a large majority of oncologists (86%) indicated that they receive information regarding copay offset programs from pharmaceutical representatives. The second most popular channel through which physicians receive information about these programs is through email (39%), followed closely by the specialty pharmacy channel (37%).

Nearly half (43%) of oncologists reported some type of difficulty associated with enrolling in copay offset programs, whereas slightly more (45%) specialty pharmacy employees believe processing copay programs causes administrative challenges. Although some programs were considered more burdensome than others, one outspoken survey respondent in specialty pharmacy from United Chemists quipped, “If it's a hassle, the pharmacist shouldn't be working in specialty pharmacy… we expect this [job] to be high contact with patients and lots of time on the phone. And if that's a hassle it might not be the right job for you.”

Slide from the August 20, 2013 Zitter Health Insights webinar

When asked how hub services offered via a manufacturer compare with medication support services offered by a specialty pharmacy, Wheeler acknowledged that the services often overlap. But, he noted, “The hubs are more tailored in terms of being product-specific, since they are run by manufacturers.”

Importantly, the data indicate that specialty pharmacists may start to become a more important part of the hub equation. When asked if pharmaceutical representatives will start to reach out to specialty pharmacists more, Wheeler noted that Zitter’s research on specialty pharmacists reveals that “more representative detailing is a primary concern/recommendation of SPPs [specialty pharmacy providers].”

The overarching message from the presentation was that hubs drive brand recognition and awareness, and most specialty brands coming on the market today are likely to be paired with manufacturer assistance programs. “Pharmacist perception about hubs is an important issue that we are looking into during our present round of research,” said Wheeler. “We’ll have more to say on this in a few weeks.”