How can pharma engage with caregivers? Try programs that ease their stress

Caregiver end of life care nursing home palliative care
More than 9 in 10 caregivers either spearhead or play an active role in their patients' conversations with their doctors, a survey by Phreesia Life Sciences found. (Getty/KatarzynaBialasiewicz)

Pharma companies spend much of their marketing energy on doctors and patients, but another key stakeholder—the caregiver—is sometimes overlooked. And that’s a lost opportunity, a new report from Phreesia Life Sciences suggests.  

When it comes to treatment decisions, caregivers play an outsized role, with 92% saying they either spearhead or take an active part in their patients’ conversations with their doctors, according to the survey of more than 2,000 caregivers.

More than half of patients (52%) rely on caregivers to make their healthcare decisions, according to the report, while another 30% always discuss their treatment options with their caregivers before making a decision.

Drugmakers would be wise to reach out to them directly when marketing their products, said Joyce Wang, Phreesia’s associate director of research. “They may even be the more important group to communicate to,” Wang said. 

RELATED: Teva joins pharma’s help-the-helpers trend with campaign for Canada’s COVID caregivers

What's the best way for pharma to engage this group? One method is with programs that make their caregiving duties easier, the report suggests. 

The majority of caregivers responding to the survey (76%) were women, and more than half were aged 55 or older. That puts many of them squarely in the "sandwich generation," where they're caring for both aging parents and their own children, notes Liz Hebert, Phreesia's senior research manager.  

Many of them, 75%, reported being moderately to extremely stressed, while more than half (55%) ranked emotional support as their top need.

“There’s a big opportunity [for pharma] to help these caregivers and provide that support,” Hebert said. 

Phreesia polled 2,084 paid and unpaid caregivers who were checking in for doctors' appointments between September and October 2021, either for themselves or their patients. While the industry has long heard about the importance of caregivers from doctors and nurses, there had been little in the way of hard data, added Hebert.

The survey paints a picture of caregivers having a hand in all aspects of patient care, from coordinating doctors' appointments to picking up prescriptions, with 73% and 69% saying they're responsible for those tasks, respectively. More than 75% said they accompany patients to doctors' visits, 70% said they monitor health symptoms and 64% say they manage their patient's medication. 

Hebert acknowledged that most pharma companies already offer robust patient programs, and many also offer caregiver support services, but better streamlining and coordination is needed, the report suggests. 

RELATED: Pharmas’ return on $5B spent yearly on patient support programs? Only 3% are using them

Some recommendations? Rolling out dedicated caregiver training and education programs and caregiver-specific information hubs as well as caregiver support services like online chat forums and support groups.

For branded and disease awareness campaigns, the report suggests giving caregivers their own section on the campaign website or their own website. Wang said something as simple as offering them a separate login to patient portals to access health information and communicate with doctors can help ease stress.

“They should not be spending hours every day searching online going to different places to find information,” she said. “They just need better support.”