An app that finds financial help for seriously ill patients
The Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation offers nearly 70 disease-specific assistance programs to help eligible patients with life-threatening, chronic and rare diseases pay out-of-pocket-costs for treatment. Since its founding in 2004, PAN has provided nearly 1 million underinsured patients with over $3 billion in financial assistance,
The PAN Foundation is one of eight patient assistance organizations that provide a critical safety net to this patient population. Until now, there has been no mechanism to inform patients when a new program opens, or an existing fund is depleted. Patients and caregivers have had to manually monitor the websites of the individual organizations to find and track the status of each disease-specific program.
For a seriously ill patient seeing a team of providers, and struggling to start and stay on multiple treatments, the process is time-consuming and exhausting. To ease the burden, PAN Foundation President and CEO Dan Klein asked his staff how PAN could automate the process to notify patients, caregivers, providers, pharmacists and others when a fund opens at any of the patient assistance organizations.
From this discussion, FundFinder was born.
FundFinder is the first free web-based application to help simplify the search for financial assistance for this patient population. Users are instantly notified by email or text message when a disease program they follow opens, eliminating the need to manually monitor each of the eight websites.
PAN opted to create a web-based app instead of a mobile app to make it as widely accessible as possible, for patients who range in age and comfort level with technology. FundFinder is available from any web browser on a desktop computer, tablet or mobile phone. The app is updated hourly to provide the most up-to-date information.
Application Development Process
The first app developed by any organization is a learning process. To ensure its success, PAN formed a project team representing every department and brought in Summit Business Technologies (Summit), a Maryland company experienced in developing custom and complex apps that do not conform to off-the-shelf solutions.
Over the next few weeks, the team went through a requirements-gathering process to identify needed functionalities for a Phase I launch. Summit evaluated the requirements and translated them into detailed specifications—from login to fund listings to the notification process.
Like nearly every new app, a few glitches were encountered:
- PAN wanted to show the funds available and filter them based on search terms. However, the fund names did not always match the disease category, so the search parameters will be revised in Phase 2.
- The staff initially preferred to send individual notifications to ensure each message got through, but in the testing phase, it took eight hours to send 10,000 text messages. PAN had to move to a batch distribution process.
- The app collects data on hundreds of funds administered by the eight organizations. When more than one fund opened for the same disease, users were only notified about the first program that opened. Once the glitch was fixed, 25,000 notifications were activated with the next round of fund openings.
“Requirements gathering was key,” said Ayesha Azam, Senior Director of Medical Affairs. “Next time we would want to spend a lot more time brainstorming and collaborating up front. In the beginning, we did not involve the developer.”
Preparing for Launch
The success of an app rests not only with its usability and functionality, but with the marketing effort necessary to drive awareness and adoption.
The Foundation did extensive marketing before and after launch, targeting key audiences of patients, providers, pharmacists, donors and advocacy groups. The multi-faceted outreach campaign relied on advocacy groups and providers to help expand its reach, and a marketing mix of web content and tutorials, social media, email, newsletters and a radio media tour with CEO Dan Klein to publicize the app.
Before the launch of FundFinder, PAN sent out an email with a signup form that generated 1,000 users on day one. Since Fundfinder launched at the end of 2018, more than 8,000 patients, physicians, pharmacists and advocates have signed up for the app.
FundFinder was an immediate success, because PAN had found a cost-effective, technology-based solution to address an unmet need by the patient and provider communities. The application is an example of how foundations, associations, and other nonprofits can use technology to create a solution specific to the individuals and companies they serve.