When many people think of call centers, they envision someone sitting at a 1950s switchboard waiting for inbound calls. Almost entirely product-focused, these calls typically involved high level questions from patients that weren’t answered by their doctor or had to do with a negative experience with the medication.

As healthcare has become more consumer-driven, the capabilities of call centers expanded. For the most part, this involved one-size-fits-all messaging followed by marketing content provided through traditional communication channels, such as email or print. While this has the advantage of being able to deliver consistent and controlled messages to the patient, this model did not enable dynamic two-way communication, where we can ask the patient questions, capture the response and then tailor the next message and action accordingly. As a result, the ability to create lasting behavioral changes was limited.

New technology, combined with empowered patients, enables brands to perform more targeted outreach to patients with specific medical conditions, prescriptions or treatments, allowing them to target their audience and personalize their message using multi-channel contact centers. This evolution of relationship marketing in healthcare is not just about pushing a brand message through a specific channel, but it’s about creating greater engagement with targeted patients and opening the door for two-way conversations designed to create more personalized and targeted messaging to improve the patient experience and health outcome.

Patients Expect More Personalized Support

Patients have the ability to access more healthcare information and decision-making tools than ever before, but they want these tools to be personalized to their needs. Recent research commissioned by McKesson showed that patients are less interested in general information about their condition and more interested in personal communications from various healthcare industry players in the form of missed prescription reminders (89%), refill reminders (87%), live phone support (86%) and pharmacist coaching (83%).  

The premise of traditional relationship marketing was that sending an email or a print-based communication was two-way because we could assess patient behavior over time and adjust support as needed. For example, using information captured during enrollment, relationship marketing programs could map out static support and communication tools for up to 12 months. In contrast, integrating live phone outreach enables the program to evolve in real time through patient-identified needs and fosters personalized, dynamic support that can be integrated into the brand’s broader marketing strategy.

Leveraging Live Patient Conversations to Optimize the Brand Experience

Consider a program that helps patients navigate their own healthcare decisions by supporting adherence, sharing information, addressing barriers along the way and deploying proven behavioral-based techniques. One example is McKesson’s Behavioral Call Campaigns, which use live-agent support to identify adherence barriers and provide targeted messaging to help overcome those barriers, connecting with patients using proven health behavior change tools and techniques to build programs that can, with proper consent from the patient, align personalized messaging with a patient’s intended utilization activity. These campaigns can be used as stand-alone solutions or integrated into broader marketing campaigns by pairing them with financial assistance or educational support programs.

Recognizing that adherence barriers change over time, as do patients’ information and education needs, brands can integrate outbound support and multi-channel communications to maintain that personalized support for patients throughout their brand journey. In this scenario, delivering smarter dynamic communications rather than static timed communications based on self-reported data can help connect patients to information and support that drive brand loyalty and program success.

The New Holistic Approach to Live Patient Conversations

With the evolution from call centers of the 1950s to the contact center of today, brands can now use live patient conversations to support adherence, connect patients with additional brand resources, help decrease their potential cost barriers by leveraging co-pay program resources, enroll patients into existing CRM and provide ongoing patient support as part of an integrated, holistic program.

However, to successfully leverage sophisticated behavioral coaching conversations with patients, additional agent training is critical. Behavioral coaching requires knowledge of the therapeutic condition, the brand and its resources as well as knowledge of the brand’s competitors. Additionally, agents must be fully trained in the call objectives, questions to ask patients and the data collection process and how to code the responses correctly to drive the call outcome and next steps in the holistic patient support program.  

By leveraging a full-service contact center that employs behaviorally trained agents and has the ability to couple inbound and outbound communications with co-pay support, brands can enhance the patient experience while optimizing their investment.

As pharma legal teams are becoming more comfortable that these programs can be constructed to stay within legal guidelines through clear business rules, proper consent and by following approved scripting, brands are increasingly allocating marketing budgets to live contact center support to impact adherence and drive awareness. As a result, traditional inbound-only call centers are evolving into a strategic resource, designed to implement targeted patient conversations. This approach has been proven to increase the effectiveness of communications, enhance patient knowledge and ensure healthier outcomes for patients.

Amanda Rhodes is director of client strategy and solutions for McKesson Patient Relationship Solutions.