It should come as no surprise that patient visits to doctors, for non-Covid-19 related issues, declined during sheltering-at-home orders.

The HealthVerity Patient Confidence Index, which looks at non-Covid-19 patient physician visits as measured by weekly medical claims received across 20 key therapeutic areas, highlights the sharp decline in visits since the pandemic took hold in the US at the beginning of March. The HVPCI shows that many patients who need care for acute and chronic illnesses chose not to visit doctors as they balanced the risk of exposure to coronavirus in a public setting.  For example, in mid-May oncology visits were down by around 36% from February, according to HealthVerity.

A decline in doctor’s visits has a knock-on-effect for new prescriptions – with fewer visits, there are fewer new scripts. The Covid-19’s impact on script trends shows that brands treating acute ailments were down by 40% year-on year-from April to May, while generic products treating chronic ailments were down just 2.3%, according to Nephron Research. The relatively lower decline in generic scripts suggests that patients likely stocked up on treatment when they could for their chronic illnesses. That will rebound.

However, delayed doctor visits and scrimping or skipping treatments (which could be an ongoing problem for patients who have lost jobs and therefore insurance coverage), could worsen the prognosis of illnesses. A May report in the medical journal The Lancet, for example, forecasts the possibility of a 5% to 10% decrease in survival of cancer in high-income countries – a death toll that would exceed current Covid-19 mortality rates – in part because of later stage diagnoses and missed treatments.

Obviously, the pharmaceutical industry needs to be prepared for unpredictable waves of demand – refilling new orders, and sadly, providing treatment for later-stage care for a variety of illnesses.

The industry has already taken steps to help patients with at least one big pharma company expanding its existing patient support programs to help eligible unemployed patients in the US who have lost their health insurance due to the pandemic. In that instance, any company-branded medicine is being made available to those who need it for free. Others have reduced the price of insulin to those with and without health insurance.

But in addition to ensuring patients have access to treatment, biopharma companies need to manage new patient requests to enter clinical trials, which are crucial to treatment. They will need assistance navigating enrolment and reimbursement. Similarly, doctors will need assistance in filling out more insurance company forms. If the biopharma industry steps in to help on these fronts, it will not only go a long way to improving its relationship with patients but also with medical providers. It’s clear that working with patient services providers to find novel solutions to expedite care is now, more than ever, needed.

The industry also needs to be prepared for its own new set of logistics challenges. As we are beginning to see increases in cases in different “hot spots”, we could be looking at a future where labs, medical facilities and offices re-open, then are closed, until outbreaks are contained. The industry needs to be prepared to dynamically handle supply-chain availability, as well as be on standby to offer remote help as physicians determine the best way to remotely provide medical care to patients.

Covid-19 is our immediate challenge. Finding a vaccine and best treatment plans for sick patients is a top priority for the industry.  But the knock-on effects of the virus to other illnesses cannot be overlooked.  And this is going to take Herculean efforts to sustain the momentum and focus on providing the best possible treatment options to all patients as the fatigue of fighting months-long battle against the outbreak persists.

Photo: Irina_Strelnikova, Getty Images