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MANAGING THE OFFICE

Life science companies and healthcare providers partnering for value-based patient care

By Mal Milburn bio

In the era of value-based reimbursement, healthcare professionals are constantly evaluating strategies to improve patient care while simultaneously decreasing overhead costs.

 

Increasingly, medical practices turning to life science reps as a critical part of the answer. According to recent research from DRG Digital Manhattan Research, 74% of physicians are looking to spend more time with life science reps, as rep partnerships have been shown to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

 

  1. Outcome improvement: Life science companies are developing cutting-edge drugs and technologies at increasing rates, and their reps are equipped with the latest, most comprehensive information about these advancements. Reps are able to bring this education directly to providers in their practice, as the innovations are released. Reps also provide important updates about new drug regimens, protocols, labeling, indications, and clinical trials. When physicians partner with reps, they receive timely education that can be implemented immediately. In fact, some studies indicate that physicians who restrict access to industry reps may be slower to adopt first-in-class drugs that improve patient outcomes. In medicine, time is of the essence, and staying on top of industry updates is crucial for providing the best possible patient care. With every interaction, reps are able to help physicians improve outcomes and treat their patients more effectively.
  2. Cost reduction: Certain reps are able to provide practices with sample medications that patients might otherwise refuse due to an inability to pay. It’s an unfortunate reality, but many patients rely on these samples, and having a fully stocked inventory is crucial for medical offices. Reps can also offer coupons and vouchers, and educate staff about the latest patient assistance programs helping patients afford their prescriptions. When patients take their medications as prescribed, the likelihood of readmission or hospitalization drops significantly, thereby reducing costs under value-based care models.

Unfortunately, 54% of practices restrict access to this free and valuable resource, according to the DRG study. The main reasons for these restrictions cited in the study were administrative. Traditionally, managing reps simply takes too many resources away from practices. I can only surmise that these restrictions are due, in part, to the 400+ hours practices spend each year on rep management. With the emergence of pharmacogenetics, this demand is especially high.

This disconnect creates an unintended information gap in practices that can be detrimental to physical education and thus, patient care. It represents a core problem in the healthcare industry today, and is especially urgent for oncologists looking to stay on the cutting edge of cancer care.

One clinic’s story

The education gap was also a critical issue for a Mississippi hematology/oncology clinic. Providers were struggling to keep up with new clinical advances amid increasing demands on their time. Although industry reps provided valuable education, these visits also imposed administrative burden, often requiring 17 hours each week to schedule and coordinate. Reps often showed up unannounced, tying up administrative resources while patients tried to check in for appointments. Some reps even showed up before the clinic officially opened its doors every day.

However, recognizing the potential value of reps, the clinic decided to redefine their policy. They implemented five key strategies that have emerged as best practices for a productive partnership between pharma and providers:

  1. Define your reps.

The term ‘industry rep’ is fairly nonspecific because it includes pharma and biotech reps, device reps, lab reps, and service reps. Within those categories, there are physicians working as Medical Science Liaisons, nurses working as Nurse Educators, and others serving as reimbursement specialists or account executives. Much like every practice is unique, the reps they see should be strategic additions to their team. A practice’s specific needs or questions will dictate which of these individuals should have access to physicians and staff. Practices should strive to maintain an accurate database of contact information, including each rep’s full name, title, company, products, phone number, and email address to allow for instant access whenever a question arises.

  1. Create a rep policy.

A defined, transparent policy communicates to reps what information is most important to a practice. The policy will detail what information is needed, when it is needed, and how frequently reps are able to meet with physicians and clinical staff. It clearly outlines parameters, expectations, and limitations.

An effective rep policy should contain the following elements:

  • Describe why providers and staff see reps. For example, to learn about new information—new products, new indications, and new FDA-approved data or research.
  • The specific type of reps allowed
  • How reps can schedule appointments
  • Areas of the practice that are restricted to reps (such as exam rooms, nursing stations, waiting rooms, and labs)
  • Whether the practice will allow reps to bring food, as well as food allergies, preferences, and spending restrictions per person
  • How and when to provide drug samples
  • Consequences for not following the policy
  • Restriction on patient contact, such as disallowing reps to observe or have direct contact with patients at all times
  1. Leverage technology.

If the administrative burden is the biggest barrier to rep education, practices need tools that remove that barrier. In the Mississippi oncology practice, they implemented online tools that digitized the provider-dharma relationship. They brought their rep schedule online, creating custom meeting slots that reps self-schedule. The platform automatically enforces visitation policies, and the practice controls the frequency with which each type of rep can book appointments. Additionally, the physicians and staff now have access to a digital rep directory and are able to instantly message reps whenever a question arises. By leveraging technology, the front office staff are freed up to focus on patient-patient-related tasks, and providers report more productive meetings.

  1. Incorporate best practices for conducting meetings.

Proven methods from other industries can be implemented in healthcare offices to increase the productivity of rep meetings. For example, requiring reps to submit topics in advance of meetings ensures providers receive relevant information, and reps are more prepared with supplemental materials and research. 91% of physicians want industry reps to discuss clinical studies and evidence-based medicine, according to a recent survey conducted by Publicis Touchpoint Solutions, Inc. With advance notice, reps are able to gather and provide relevant, FDA-approved information instead of having to follow-up on requests after the meeting. Designating someone to take notes, or even record the presentation are also helpful strategies to ensure future meeting productivity and support information sharing across the organization.

  1. Create a feedback loop.

Time is an incredibly valuable resource, and rep meetings are only as helpful as the information presented. As such, practices should take care to track and record the usefulness of each presentation. A regular review of this feedback will ensure that time is well spent and reps are providing value. As appropriate, sharing the results of these reviews with reps can encourage collaboration. Communication is key in any relationship, so letting your reps know what is and is not working will promote a productive work environment.

Results

By focusing on these best practices, the Mississippi clinic has been able to take full advantage of educational opportunities without stressing internal resources. These opportunities have enabled the hematology/oncology clinic to build orders in its electronic health record so physicians can prescribe new and emerging drugs as quickly as possible. Following best practices has also reduced the time staff spend managing reps by 17+ hours each month. This incredible boost in efficiency equates to a 900-hour annual saving. Fewer hours on rep management has allowed staff to focus on patient-centric tasks including scanning, pre-certification, insurance verification/updates, and patient check-ins.

Conclusion: Practices that follow in these footsteps with a calculated, proven approach can undoubtedly improve patient care and the overall patient experience.

 


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