How are COVID-19 Variants Impacting Pharmaceutical Brands?

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[This is part two in our data report on COVID-19] 

Over the past two years, Truveris’s data science and analytics team has been analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on prescription drug use across the U.S. In August 2021, Truveris published a report analyzing how COVID-19 impacted the number of prescriptions written and claims submitted, and the resulting impact these trends had on pharmaceutical manufacturers. This special report showed how COVID-19 reduced patient adherence and prescriber writing habits in a short period of time.  

Now, with the entrance of COVID-19 variants, such as Delta and Omicron, should pharmaceutical brands expect another dramatic disruption? 

Delta decreased prescriptions and claims numbers

First, Truveris analyzed the number of prescriptions written for maintenance medications (used to treat chronic, long-term conditions) and non-maintenance medications (used to treat acute and short-term conditions). Between June and July 2021, as Delta cases rose, there was a 13.7% decrease in the number of maintenance medications prescribed and a 9.8% decrease in the number of non-maintenance medications prescribed, showing that physicians were prescribing significantly less during the Delta wave.  

COVID impact on pharma brands - graph 1

Next, Truveris analyzed the number of claims for maintenance medications and non-maintenance medications. In short, this analysis was to determine if Delta had any effect on patients filling their prescriptions at the pharmacy. Truveris found that between June and July 2021, there was a 3.9% decrease in the number of maintenance medication fills. Looking at non-maintenance medications for chronic and long-term conditions, Truveris saw a disturbing 17.7% decrease in the number of fills between June and July 2021.  

These trends are in line with decreases in ambulatory care and delays in care by patients seen throughout the United States during the same time period, supporting the theory that COVID-19 variants are changing behaviors that impact the pharmaceutical industry.  

Delta impacted certain regions differently

We know that Delta is not affecting all areas of the U.S. in the same way. Specifically, regions such as the Southeast and Midwest have seen higher rates of infection – likely due to lower vaccination rates. Given the geographical differences in the spread of the Delta variant, Truveris further segmented our analysis by U.S. state.  

Impact of COVID on pharma brands - graph 2

With this segmenting, there is a noticeable difference in how certain regions were impacted by Delta. In the Southeast, there was a 5% decrease in prescriptions and claims during the Delta variant surge. Compared to the national average, some of these southern states saw double the decrease in non-maintenance prescriptions written from June to July 2021. Notably, this statistic was led by Alabama (-20%), Louisiana (-19%), and South Carolina (-18%).  For maintenance prescriptions written, other states like Ohio (-30%), Mississippi (-26%), and California (-25%) showed drastic decreases compared to the national average of -13.7%. Not surprisingly, these states with the most dramatic decreases in prescriptions written and claims filled were also states that experienced harrowing surges of the Delta variant during this time. 

COVID impact on pharma brands - graph 2 COVID impact on pharma brands - graph 3


How can pharmaceutical brands prepare for the impact of COVID-19 variants?

Overwhelmingly, the data tell a story. Pharmaceutical brands are susceptible to market changes in geographies that are prone to a variant spike. With Delta, pharmaceutical brands saw nearly a third of their maintenance prescriptions written decrease in states that struggled against the variant. Areas that saw the highest infection rates from Delta were less likely to write or fill their prescriptions, compared to areas that were better protected from the variant.  

Delta is far from contained, and new variants, such as the highly-contagious Omicron, continue to emerge. With the Omicron variant, pharmaceutical manufacturers need to be prepared for dips in prescribing and claims in certain markets. With an innovative patient access approach, brands can better stabilize their operations during disruptive moments in the market. As a start, here are four patient access strategies for brands to better prepare for upcoming COVID-19 variants: 

  • Conduct territory analysis – By monitoring prescribing and claims changes in specific territories and states, manufacturers can track and react to market changes quickly. With an intelligent analytics platform, brand teams can monitor territory shifts regularly, on a granular basis, to stay on top of trends. With access to analytics and reports of this nature, Truveris clients are able address COVID-19 market changes with a hyper-segmented geographic strategy. 
  • Optimize business rules – To counteract market changes and to enable appropriate script writing and claims, brands can alter copay program business rules. With truPay, brands can build out intelligent business rules segmented by patient type, pharmacy, or most importantly in the case of COVID-19 variants, geography. By running analyses around adherence and price sensitivity, and then closely monitoring copay program optimizations, brands can enhance their patient access solutions during COVID-19 variant spikes, driving growth even during difficult times. 
  • Offer physicians copay cards for patients – With truPay and Truveris’s intelligent analytics, brands can identify prescribers who have decreased prescriptions written, as well as which physicians stopped writing all together. Segmenting these prescribers by territory helped our clients create action plans for the brand’s sales reps that were higher yield, helping the brand recover more quickly to pre-COVID levels. Brands can then send these physicians additional copay cards to help patients access and afford the medication. 
  • Message patients – Throughout COVID-19, Truveris was able to help brands engage patients who were hesitant to visit the pharmacy by helping switch them to 90-day supplies. Through a patient messaging tool like truConnect, brands can communicate directly with their patients. This becomes increasingly valuable during a chaotic moment, like a variant outbreak in the patient’s community. If brands can continue communicating to patients during this time, patients can learn about their options to fill, which increases their likelihood of staying adherent. 

As COVID-19 persists, it is critical that brand managers have the data they need to make quick adjustments to their patient access strategy. Without robust data, COVID-19 variants will continue disrupt the pharmacy chain that connects patients to the prescriptions they rely on to stay healthy.  

The methodology for this data analysis: Truveris’ data science and analytics team explored our proprietary dataset to track the effect of the COVID-19 Delta variant on prescriptions written and claims submitted during June and July 2021. Similar to our original report,  Truveris developed a proprietary index to assess the impact of COVID-19 on prescribing and claims behavior to better understand how pharmaceutical brands have been impacted by the pandemic.

Truveris is a leading digital health company focused on delivering truth and clarity in pharmacy. Truveris’ proprietary technology, coupled with deep pharmacy expertise, helps to build a more efficient market that maximizes choice, accessibility and prescription drug affordability. Our solutions provide the insight and knowledge to help people lead healthier and more productive lives.

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