Virtual Outsourcing

By Linda Comp, Telerx | September 5, 2013

The ACA affects regulatory outsourcing

The healthcare landscape has changed dramatically in recent years as a result of decreased profit margins, growing scrutiny from the public, increased pressure from regulatory agencies and the shifting political landscape. There is little doubt many more changes are yet to come. Pharma companies are increasingly turning to mergers and acquisitions, partnerships and outsourcing to consolidate their efforts and refocus on their core business.

Why the Change Now?
With the recent implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more pharma companies are adopting an outsourcing business model in their efforts to increase efficiency and concentrate on those services at the heart of their business, thereby managing costs for the patient and the company as a whole. A recent survey by Contract Pharma on outsourcing trends found that an increase in outsourcing spending was expected in the next year. Additionally, as the industry works to implement further changes related to the ACA, the reliance upon outsourcing expertise and partnership will be even more important for companies to remain profitable.

As if the ACA was not a large enough catalyst for change, the healthcare industry is also experiencing a shift from volume of care to quality of care. In this new approach, treating with a more personal connection to the patient becomes paramount. Patient-centered services are turning out to be equally as important as the next blockbuster drug. To adapt to this “new healthcare world,” companies large and small are left with one option — to outsource certain operations to third-party partners that offer more resources, including staffing, expertise and infrastructure, among many other things.

Key Outsourcing Trends
Pharma companies typically turn to outsourcing partners to assist with processes such as corporate, regulatory and operational services. According to outsourcing experts, these are a few of the biggest current outsourcing trends in the pharma and healthcare industries:
  • Field Sales Team: The pharma sales landscape has changed dramatically in recent years and as a result, the traditional sales force is undergoing a sea change. While sales teams are still meeting with physicians in person, they are also relying on new technologies to expand their reach and frequency  and enhance the relationship virtually. As the world continues to become more digital, the sales connection is shifting to include phone, video and virtual/e-detailing meetings.  Highly-trained agents can build product and brand awareness among physicians, understand customer preferences and educate healthcare professionals during all stages of a product's life cycle without ever leaving the office, resulting in reduced overhead costs for the company.
  • Adverse Event Support: Adverse events, whether serious or non-serious; expected or unexpected; and study-related, possibly study-related, or not study-related, can be the very factors which determine whether a product is taken off the market. As a result, these have the potential to be costly long-term if not handled effectively upon notification. Companies are now beginning to spend the time and resources to partner with an expert to quickly find the source of the event, communicate it to key stakeholders and detail it to avoid crisis situations later down the line. By outsourcing such services, the staffing burden is eliminated, increasing flexibility and decreasing costs.
  • Patient Support: In their efforts to connect with patients and differentiate themselves from the competition, pharma companies are marketing themselves as “more than the pill” with the addition of patient support lines. Previously out of their traditional comfort zone, patient support has become an attractive add-on and new service for many pharma companies. However, the support service comes with a hefty price tag and can stray from the company’s core business. With the help of a customer care partner, pharma companies can now offer support lines with highly-trained professionals, including Registered Nurses and pharmacists, and provide patient support services like smoking cessation and health coaching, among many others.
  • Crisis Management Recall Support: During any given recall, the need to make thousands of contacts, often with only hours of advance notice, is the norm. In order to respond appropriately and responsibly, many companies turn to contact center partners with expertise in recalls so their brand can better respond to the high volume of contacts. Given the recent attention to pharmaceutical recalls through traditional media and social media channels, efficiency and responsiveness has never been more important. By outsourcing, the need for “just in case” staff is eliminated, as well as the capital necessary to implement proper recall infrastructure. In many cases, crisis situations such as recalls require highly-trained experts with deep medical knowledge to answer patient questions and respond to potential adverse events and product quality complaints. By outsourcing these services, companies can dramatically decrease internal staffing costs. An experienced partner with comprehensive knowledge of recalls and adverse events can always ensure 100% compliance along the way, and most importantly, minimize any damage the brand may sustain in the public’s eye.
The Payoff
Although some companies are hesitant to outsource because of data security, perceived performance and internal change management concerns, most have realized the return on investment has been worthwhile and that with the right partner, the advantages outweigh the potential risks. Through outsourcing, companies benefit from a wide range of specialized services, have access to additional staff members, including highly-specialized experts, allowing for optimum flexibility when it comes to the number, skills and duration of employment of additional staff.  In addition, outsourcing allows companies to “borrow” call center infrastructure during times of need, without having to make long-term investments internally. Last but not least, by consolidating services and outsourcing non-core business practices to a valued partner, companies can gain quality, expertise and compliance and inherit best practices.  Above all, outsourcing allows a company to decrease overhead costs over time.

The Future of Outsourcing
With adverse event reporting expected to reach $1 billion by 2016 in the U.S., the need for qualified outsourcing partners will grow as well. Two additional services that are also expected to experience growth in the pharmaceutical and healthcare outsourcing industries are telemedicine and comprehensive data collection. 

Although futuristic sounding, telemedicine has been around for years, though typically used in pilot programs to treat Americans offshore or in remote locations. Now, as the healthcare industry undergoes a huge transformation, telemedicine is expected to become a routine part of the process, and one that is often outsourced as the need for professionals with in-depth medical knowledge and expertise is critical. 

Similarly, use of data to determine course of action is not a new phenomenon, but soon data collection will go well-beyond patient history and will be used in everything from finance to marketing, and R&D to strategic planning. The practice of comprehensive data collection will be outsourced to third-party partners, instead of remaining in-house, where it has traditionally resided.

While outsourcing is not a new concept within the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, the role it plays is becoming larger and more critical than ever before. Now, instead of a subsidiary role in a company, the third-party partner is playing a more integrated role, contributing services that offer insight, expertise and knowledge. As these new service offerings and associated cost savings are realized, the outsourcing industry will grow, slow and steady into the future.

Linda Comp is senior vice president and general manager, Virtual Healthcare Solutions (VHS) at Telerx. She can be reached at  linda.comp@telerx.com.