When Julia Laurin joined ConnectiveRx in 2018, it was her first foray into the healthcare industry. And yet, her current work as chief product officer is part of a thread that’s been consistent throughout her decade-long career in product management. Before she found her niche, however, she was on a different path.
Laurin attended the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and entered the workforce as a litigation associate. She loved how analytical the practice of law was, but she was less drawn to the adversarial nature of the field. Then she discovered product management. Suddenly the empathy she felt toward her clients as a lawyer was an asset, allowing her to tap into the needs of users and customers to fuel transformative innovation.
“Before [ConnectiveRx], I was helping to revolutionize analytics for university librarians,” Laurin says of her previous time at Thomson Reuters. “There’s something I love about taking these antiquated workflows that really haven’t been disrupted or revolutionized yet, then seeing how we can bring the best of data, technology, and tools into these areas.
“On one hand, the healthcare system produces miracles for patients—COVID vaccine distribution is an example of the system coming together to operate what felt like the speed of light,” she continues. “On the other hand, I spend a lot of my day figuring out how to grapple with the insistent ubiquity of fax machines—it’s still the number one way many doctors communicate, and I need to meet our healthcare partners where they’re at.”
Per its name, ConnectiveRx is a technology-enabled services company that, through collaborating with biopharmaceutical manufacturers, comes up with solutions that make it easier for patients to access and afford medications. Laurin’s role comprises a wide slate of responsibilities—namely developing product strategy and innovation road maps, assessing the market, and leading user validation, all while focusing on developing products that patients will actually use and benefit from.
“We’re always talking to specialty patients,” she says. “We actually have them draw out their own patient journey—everything from the advent of symptoms to diagnosis and actually getting therapy.”
Laurin describes the process as revealing a perseverance in patients that’s both moving and humbling. It can often be months or even years between the onset of symptoms and when someone actually gets the medication they need. It’s the product management team’s job to discover ways that ConnectiveRx can clarify and shorten the wait period.
“It’s highly individual in some ways,” Laurin says. “We really look at the therapeutic class, whether it’s a chronic condition or a very acute one. And then we start to design multiple patient journeys and imagine all the scenarios and obstacles we need to anticipate and neutralize. Sometimes, it’s through a specialty pharmacy. Sometimes, it’s through a retail pharmacy. Sometimes, it’s at the hospital or doctor’s office.”
“From a product perspective, it’s ultimately about the patient. It’s the patient who is the end user. It’s the patient who we’re helping, and we never lose sight of that.”
Through their findings, Laurin and her team have identified three themes that arise with most patient journeys. First, patients want to feel informed and in control of their own healthcare, which they often find difficult due to a perceived lack of transparency. Second, they want to have a detailed understanding of their cost and benefit coverage. Citing the transparency issue once again, Laurin explains that it can be hard for many of them to know how much is being covered by insurance and how much will be out of pocket. And finally, there can be a number of added hurdles once the product actually arrives. For instance, if a medication has to be injected, Laurin notes how scary of a process that can be for a patient who’s never self-administered.
To address these issues and make the patient journey easier, the product management team has come up with two solutions that Laurin is especially excited about. Remarkably, some of the best products are the ones that work behind the scenes and are more or less invisible to patients. Copay ePA, an automated process designed to streamline and expedite prior authorization, is a great example of an “invisible innovation” that neutralizes potential patient access obstacles completely behind the scenes.
“Prior authorization has become a major burden for patients and healthcare providers, and is increasingly being required by payers,” Laurin says. “It just adds a lot of complexity to already swamped HCP [healthcare provider] processes. So, we modernized it through some smart technology and great partnerships with industry leaders such as Surescripts. That enabled us to automate the prior-authorization process and get a patient onto therapy more quickly. They get to access their prescription without even being aware that there’s this underlying friction being resolved between the doctor’s office and the payer.”
The end result is that a patient gets to leave the pharmacy with medication in hand while everything gets sorted out without them having to worry about it. The innovation earned ConnectiveRx a PM360 Trailblazer Award just last year.
The second product solution Laurin cites is mobileCare Manager, a solution that patients can actually hold in their hand. A mobile platform built by HelpAround for specialty patients, she describes the tool as one that can be completely embedded into a person’s lifestyle.
“When I first joined ConnectiveRx, we had a thriving patient support business where we were laser focused on helping doctor’s offices, but we didn’t have a lot of ways to directly interact with patients,” she says. “We really loved what we saw with HelpAround—they developed this whole digital experience catered directly to the specialty patient. It’s not just a pill reminder. It’s about the special needs of patients on these chronic medications. It’s designed to help them really assimilate their treatment into their lifestyle. Everything can be accessed on their smartphone.”
Most conveniently, mobileCare Manager is multichannel, meaning that, while patients can download it as an app if they’d like, they can also access it through standard SMS or through a secure mobile web experience. “If we meet the patient where they live their lives, then we can more successfully help integrate their treatment into their day to day,” Laurin explains. “That supports adherence, which means healthier and happier patients.
“From a product perspective, it’s ultimately about the patient,” she continues, referring to mobileCare Manager, but also ConnectiveRx’s mission as a whole. “It’s the patient who is the end user. It’s the patient who we’re helping, and we never lose sight of that.”