There are more barriers between patients and the medications that they need than price, agreed experts at the BIO International Convention in June 2022.
“This is one of those topics where you just continue to peel back the layers of the onion and you find more and more,” said Leigh Bruhn, EVP of Syneos Health, who moderated a panel, “Overcoming Non-Price Barriers to Patient Access,” on the convention’s final day.
“2.2 million people globally don’t have access to the medicines they need, which is a really hard number to wrap your head around,” continued Bruhn. Factors like reimbursements, transportation, stigma, time and scheduling, and much more continue to stand in the way of patient access – but these barriers can be overcome.
‘Helping patients overcome these barriers is the right thing to do.’
“I was a volunteer in a hospital down in North Carolina, and a patient was discharged in the middle of the night and didn’t have any sort of way of getting home,” recalled Imran Cronk, CEO and Founder of Ride Health. “And he was going to try to walk eight or nine miles home in the middle of the night as a 68-year-old who had just been given medication that compromised his vision, and he was off balance and staggering as a result.”
“The only thing I could think to do was to offer him a ride home because my shift was ending at midnight,” continued Cronk. “That was an experience that really stuck with me and has set me on this multi-year journey now.”
“Helping patients overcome these barriers is the right thing to do,” said Julian Ritchey, Head of U.S. Vaccine Public Affairs and Advocacy at Sanofi. “If nothing else, one of the things that COVID-19 has shown us is the fact that you can have miracles of science happen, but if you can’t deliver them, then the miracles aren’t realized.”
“It’s essential to consider the business model to make sure that there is acceptance for vaccines and confidence in the products,” explained Ritchey. “And this is important because it’s the only way to achieve the public health opportunity that healthcare technology provides us.”
“Treatment itself, or any intervention that isn’t getting reimbursed effectively, means that a lot of patients just won’t get it,” responded Jittrakul Prinnapat, VP of Global Market Access & Analytics at Johnson & Johnson. “The role for collaboration is incredibly important when it comes to delivering medical intervention that patients might otherwise not have been able to get. Patient outcome is our ultimate goal.”
Solutions for patient access can be simple
One of the overarching themes of the discussion was that even though the factors that lead to non-price barriers to care for patients are complex, solutions are often very simple and easy to maintain. They just require a little work, a system of collaboration between the biopharmaceutical industry and federal and local governments, as well as grassroots community efforts.
“The development of these services is ultimately really simple,” said Ritchey. “For example, vaccines, there can be an issue that is physically proximal, so that transportation element is even more paramount in our circumstance.”
“We inherently address transportation as a non-price barrier, but there is more to think about,” added Cronk. “COVID-19 clinical trials under Operation Warp Speed required healthy volunteers. However, we found that if a participant developed COVID-19, the transportation options quickly became pretty limited. They couldn’t go on public transit and may or may not have somebody who was able to get them to their clinical trial site for follow-up evaluations.”
In Uganda, for example, a “non-price barrier is often associated with transportation, but I don’t just mean vehicular transportation, I also mean not being able to walk. These are people who are often confined to their homes,” said Prinnapat. To address this issue, Johnson & Johnson worked with the government and local organizations in Uganda to set up a drone program so they could deliver medications directly to patients in their homes.
Ultimately, the way to think about – and solve – non-price barriers to medical care is to prioritize meeting patients where they are, listen to communities, and partner with government and the private sector to ensure resources are going where they need to go and being maintained.