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The Post-Pandemic Future of Medical Information Call Centers

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted countless processes in the healthcare industry. Everything from clinical trial recruitment to medical affairs has had to adjust to an almost exclusively digital world. Nearly two years into the pandemic, industry leaders are starting to understand which changes will last and which processes will revert to pre-pandemic ways.

One significant change is the use of medical information call centers. While these call centers were in place before the pandemic, their value has increased significantly. Here’s how the pandemic affected medical information call centers and what it means for pharmaceutical and life sciences companies.

Patient Behavior Creates Industry-Wide Changes

The first thing to note is that many of the changes implemented by medical information call centers were driven by patient behavior. The pandemic changed the way patients approached their healthcare needs and how they communicated with medical professionals. Namely, many patients delayed or cancelled treatments entirely for fear of catching the virus.

“Overall, the impact of COVID-19 has dramatically reduced the number of patients seeing [healthcare providers], since fewer patients are seeing HCPs for non-COVID-19-related conditions,” write Ortal Cohen, et al., at McKinsey. “Half of surveyed physicians worry that their patients will not be able to receive timely care for new or existing conditions (particularly those that are not COVID-19 related).”

This drove healthcare providers to offer more telehealth services and to look for alternative channels patients could use to address their medical concerns.

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Pharmaceutical Companies Updated Their Digital Channels

Healthcare providers aren’t the only ones turning to telehealth because of changes in patient behavior. Many pharmaceutical and life sciences companies are working to improve their systems to accommodate patient demand.

The team at Accenture reports that “HCPs have seen pharma companies change what they communicate about beyond just product information.” Healthcare providers said the services that pharma companies are offering now are of higher value than before COVID-19.

Consumers increasingly want to talk directly with pharmaceutical companies before they start the medication offered. They want their concerns addressed either before or after they meet with their physician.

“One major trend affecting pharma call centers is healthcare consumerism,” says Jennifer Richard, vice president of contact center operations at healthcare company McKesson. “Patients expect to speak with someone who can help them immediately, not be transferred or put on hold. Today's contact center staff must be more than just phone receptionists. They need to be subject matter and patient support experts.”

This not only means medical information call center employees need to be informed and ready to speak directly to patients. They also must be aware of what they are qualified to talk about and how HIPAA restrictions limit what they should ask.

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Communication With HCPs is Increasingly Remote

Medical information call centers highlight how communication between HCPs and drug treatment developers is changing.

“Although sales forces and medical science liaisons interact often with physicians face to face, the volume of inquiries filtered through medical information teams and call centers can number in the tens of thousands each year,” says Monica Saleh, medical science liaison and associate director at Idorsia Pharmaceuticals. “For this reason, these teams can be considered the backbone of the medical affairs department.”

It remains to be seen whether the world of medical affairs will return to the levels of in-person communication that many professionals enjoyed pre-pandemic. Digital communication is more affordable and less time-consuming for both medical affairs teams and the healthcare providers they meet with. Virtual meetings allow teams to scale their efforts to reach physicians and doctors across the country over the course of a single day.

The medical affairs teams that invest in call center technology now may be better prepared to embrace future communication trends.

Many pharmaceutical companies had medical information call centers in place before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the past two years have forced healthcare providers, patients and medical affairs teams to bring their communications online and have turned in-person meetings into virtual calls. The life sciences and pharmaceutical companies that invest in call center scaling, training and upgrades will be better equipped to face the post-pandemic world than those that continue to try and get by on pre-pandemic practices supported by only the bare minimum technology available.

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