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Digital patient assistance programs on the rise amid COVID-19

Patient engagement tools must not get overlooked amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Chronic health conditions still need attention and digital patient assistance programs can help. 

Across the globe tough decisions have been made in order to safeguard people. Whether it is called a lockdown, a movement control order, or a circuit breaker, few are immune from social distancing. But there is one group of people who are particularly at risk of social distancing – those who have pre-existing chronic diseases. 

Disease management for chronic conditions is diverse. Common diseases in Southeast Asia include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, dengue, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Why is patient adherence important?

Amid the pandemic, patients with chronic diseases suffer a range of emotional distress from the sudden separation from loved ones and uncertainty over their disease status. They have also faced difficulty in accessing and adhering to routine medical treatments as well as shortages of medicines. 

The inconvenient truth is patient adherence suffers when patients are isolated with inadequate forms of social support and this economic burden is felt by healthcare systems down the road. As patients face increased fear and intensified stress levels relapses in their illness could occur, and this could cause new complications. The most devastating part is any health gains made prior to the coronavirus outbreak are jeopardised. 

This group requires frequent healthcare visits, and prescription refills and in many cases, these patients are avoiding check-ups altogether for fear of contracting the virus. Evidence already exists that people with serious chest pain related issues are avoiding emergency rooms1. In many ways it is understandable given those with pre-existing conditions are at heightened risk of being infected with COVID-19, but it is also a worry as reports show that adverse effects are already widespread. 

In India, which faces an estimated one-third of global tuberculosis cases, it has been reported by Business Insider that there has been a delay in diagnosing tuberculosis patients amid the lockdown2

Similarly, in Sri Lanka, health inspectors that typically work to destroy mosquito breeding sites, after an increase in dengue fever last year, have been reassigned to track coronavirus cases2

A patient in China who is suffering with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia also claimed not to be able to get refills on life-saving medications3

The director of operations from an international humanitarian NGO, Doctors Without Borders, also told the associated press about how they are giving people who have hepatitis C, HIV and Tuberculous months’ worth of medicine to ensure they maintain medication adherence2

That is not to say that there is not a need to address the spread of the coronavirus. Social distancing has been proven to have positive effects globally. But, there still needs to be a focus on addressing other illnesses which can also cause death. Across the pharmacy network, our pharmacists are concerned about the postponement of prescription refills and if this continues it is only going to open pandora’s box. 

How can digital patient assistance programs help?

In light of this situation, digital patient assistance programs, which existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, have been suddenly thrown into the limelight. The pandemic has forced pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers to double down on patient engagement tools to avoid a ripple effect down the road. 

Any health practitioner will testify that favourable therapeutic outcomes occur when optimal medication adherence levels are maintained. For instance, anyone living with HIV requires strict medication adherence to ensure better immunity and viral suppression. For patients with diabetes, strict medication adherence ensures glycaemic control and prevents complications such as diabetic ulcers and increased blood pressure. 

mClinica’s Patient Assistance Program is able to play a part in improving patient adherence by monitoring medication transactions, educating patients on proactive care, and encouraging treatment adherence which ultimately improves quality of life. This allows pharmaceutical companies and consumer health groups to continue operations and make informed decisions as they can track and monitor daily transactions via a real-time dashboard.

How can the pharmacy network help?

The contribution of the pharmacy network in managing chronic conditions and promoting medication adherence is key to easing the disease burden on health systems. As the healthcare systems concentrate on treating infected COVID-19 patients, the pharmacy network remains open and they have stepped up measures on prevention, referral and education as well as medication supply for both COVID-19 related, and COVID-19 unrelated cases to ensure no patient is missed out. 

Pharmacists are ideally positioned for this role because pharmacists can be the most accessible group of health practitioners that patients can get advice from, especially in Southeast Asia. 

Since medical sales representatives can’t visit pharmacists during this time, our pharmacy mobile app, SwipeRx has also been relied upon to maintain education on chronic diseases. It allows pharmacists to pursue continuing professional development (CPD) courses online which enables them to better support their patients with chronic diseases. Pharmaceutical companies can also use SwipeRx to keep pharmacists updated on their services and delivery of medication and health supplies. To read more about SwipeRx.

A glimpse of the future: disease management

The other stark reality is that across the globe, thousands of academic researchers were forced to pause research operations, including highly awaited clinical trials, in order to prevent COVID-19 infections. It is unclear how long such research can be paused without serious consequences. It is also predicted that post COVID-19, researchers globally will face challenges amid economic hardships to get funding for their research. Similarly, to the aftermath of the Great Recession, researchers will need to rely on funding from federal stimulus packages.

Of course, the shutdowns were necessary, but we must brace ourselves for gaps in biomedical research when the current pandemic ends. Our fight against pre-existing diseases will need further support in the future, and mClinica Pharmacy Solutions is ready to support the public sector with digital health tools for referrals. These digital tools have been tried and tested and have shown positive early stage signs in identifying tuberculosis cases in the Philippines as well as significant potential in Indonesia after a year of research. To find out more about how we can support the public sector with mobile health solutions.

Parting words from mClinica Pharmacy Solutions 

The good news in this grim situation is that the pandemic is strengthening the world’s capacity to respond quickly and nimbly to new medical threats and is accelerating the pace of digital adoption in the healthcare industry.

With the added capacity and increased use of mobile health solutions, we are confident will be better equipped when the next emerging infection appears, and more healthcare stakeholders will be able to benefit from the rapid speed and scale that digital health tools enable. 

Until then, the heroic workers across the pharmacy network in Southeast Asia are ensuring that those patients who had diabetes before the pandemic, are monitoring their blood sugar levels just as much as they are monitoring their fever. Likewise, if a patient was advised to follow a low-salt diet to control blood pressure, they are monitoring their diet as much as they are monitoring their fever. To read more about the effects of COVID-19 on the pharmacy network see this article.


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