Pharma companies have spent billions of dollars on patient support programs designed to educate patients about medications and conditions as well as provide them with information around payment and other financial considerations. But those investments continue to be lost on their primary targets.

According to a new report from Phreesia, a mere 3% of eligible patients take part in patient support programs. Furthermore, 61% of patients don’t see much value in the programs, in large part because they’re not aware of the benefits of participation.

“We ran this survey just to understand what was really going on. It was really surprising to us to just see how low that usage is,” said Phreesia senior research manager Liz Hebert. “We feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for the industry to provide and connect the dots for patients who are looking for and needing support.”

To examine the lack of interest in support programs, Phreesia surveyed nearly 5,000 patients. It explored topics patients are most interested in learning about and channels that would be most effective in reaching them.

While 46% of patients said they had no familiarity at all with support programs, many said they would be interested in the programs if they knew more about them.

“Our data shows that people who have some experience with patient support programs actually want those programs,” said Phreesia associate director of research Joyce Wang. “They want to use more of them. There’s a disconnect between their knowledge and their actual use.”

To address the awareness gap, Wang suggested that the industry focus on potential channels. While many pharma companies concentrate on educating patients via their physicians, Wang believes online channels and retail pharmacies aren’t being utilized as well as they could be.

While Wang noted that only 10% of patients have learned about the programs online, 44% of said they preferred to learn about them through digital channels, “because people spend a lot of time on their phones or on their computer for work and for leisure. Nowadays, digital engagement is really important,” Wang said. She added that 32% of patients would like to receive information on support programs from pharmacies.

As for the most coveted information within the programs, medication information topped the list at 46%, with disease education at 30% and financial support at 24%. That data doesn’t jibe with patient commentary, however.

“When we ask patients what programs they would be interested in, we see that affording medications is number one,” Hebert explained. “So to me, that shows there’s a disconnect between what is being used and what patients want.”

Hebert noted that clarifying the benefits of support programs and providing specifics about financial information could make them more appealing to patients. Companies should also personalize them as much as possible. 

“One thing that sticks out to me is creating a seamless user experience, so patients are able to quickly locate what they need when they’re navigating that information online,” Hebert said. “Sometimes it can be a little complicated or convoluted. It’s important to build an integrated omnichannel marketing plan that focuses on patient support programs and reaches those target patients on the platforms they’re already using.”