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

a young woman using a smartphone on the sofa at home
Few patients engage with the many support programs pharma companies offer, a new survey from Phreesia finds. (LaylaBird/GettyImages)

Talk about a meager return on investment. Pharma companies spend more than $5 billion on patient support programs every year, but when it comes to uptake, only 3% of patients are actually using them, according to a new survey from Phreesia Life Sciences.

Taking into account people who have ever used any patient support program, the percentage ticks up a bit, but still only gets to 8%. Phreesia, a patient intake platform at point of care, conducted the survey with almost 5,000 people who were checking in on its platform for doctors’ visits in February and March.

So why the low usage? Lack of awareness is one clear factor—fewer than one-fourth (23%) of patients said they were extremely or very familiar with patient support programs, while another 18% said they were somewhat familiar.

RELATED: Why don't patients love pharma apps? Because most are just mediocre, advocacy network says

However, an even bigger culprit in the dismal usage number is low familiarity, said Liz Hebert, senior research manager at Phreesia. Patients may be aware of pharma's financial or educational programs, but many don’t know details. Nor do they know how, or even whether, they could benefit.

The disconnect among patients varied by the information source. For example, 53% of patients learned about programs from their doctors—a decent match for the 55% who said they wanted to hear about them from doctors.

However, only 10% of people learned about the programs online, while 44% said they wanted to learn about them online. Similarly, only 14% found out about programs from pharmacists, while 32% wanted information from them.

To Hebert, that means patient program education “doesn’t always have to be driven through an HCP—they’re definitely an essential source and always will be. But there is definitely an opportunity for pharma to expand patient education through pharmacists or other channels.”

In the survey, Phreesia defined support programs broadly: services offered by pharma including financial assistance, disease education, specifics about medicine use or patient support group resources. 

RELATED: Speak up, pharma: Patients don't know about your support services, survey says

Phreesia’s advice? Pharma companies should look to partner with pharmacies with materials on-site or to get pharmacists to engage. Another suggestion is building omnichannel patient support programs that can reach the correct, targeted audience where they are spending time online already.

Hebert and Joyce Wang, Phreesia's associate director of research, offered an example of one Phreesia client that discovered nine out of 10 qualified patients were not using the brand’s copay card—even though more than half (53%) said they would likely use one if they had it. In the education campaign Phreesia ran about the brand’s savings program, two out of three patients reported it was the first time they were learning about it.

“It points to one solution—more patient education,” Wang said. “We need to get information out there so they know the steps involved to get on those programs and so they know the different types of programs available.”