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Empowering patients, transforming healthcare: The vision of VITiaCARE and Fernando Silva

Addressing non-adherence requires a multifaceted approach involving patient education, communication, behavioural interventions and support

Photo courtesy of VITiaCARE
Photo courtesy of VITiaCARE

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

According to the CDC, out of the 57.9% of adults aged 18-64 who used prescription medications during 2021, 9.2 million adults (8.2%) indicated that they did not adhere to their prescribed medication regimen. This non-adherence included skipping doses, taking less medication than prescribed, or postponing the filling of prescriptions. 

Medical non-adherence can have serious consequences, including increased risk of disease progression, complications, hospitalizations, reduced quality of life, and even death. It poses a significant challenge in healthcare, affecting both patients and the healthcare system.

Addressing non-adherence requires a multifaceted approach involving patient education, communication, behavioural interventions and support, an approach like the one developed by VITiaCARE, founded by Fernando Silva. With over a decade in the pharmaceutical industry, Silva honed his craft, navigating the complexities of product launches, leading turnarounds and making tough strategic decisions. “I gained extensive insight into the needs of patients and healthcare professionals. Working alongside talented teams, we achieved notable successes in launching new medications and expanding indications.”

Over his career, Silva has been recognized for the best product launch worldwide, best national sales manager award, and best turnaround for an affiliate. Silva notes, “But the greatest satisfaction came when I had the opportunity to meet with patients and see their condition evolve favourably.”

Capitalizing on those experiences, he founded VITiaCARE for the purpose of tackling the pervasive issue of treatment/medication non-adherence and, most importantly, empowering patients with the tools they need to heal and improve their quality of life. 

“My commitment to peoples’ health led my co-founders and me to develop a platform to help patients improve their quality of life through education about their condition, building expertise and providing incentives to encourage self-care and teamwork and communication amongst doctors, patients, caregivers and other stakeholders,” he said.

Starting VITiaCARE

Silva’s initial foray into solving the adherence puzzle began while working in the pharmaceutical industry. “We were always trying to find ways to help patients stick to treatments to sell more drugs. It was very difficult to get patients to change their behaviour.”

He gained valuable insight through a personal experience. “When my wife was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I saw firsthand the difficulties patients face. That’s when I said, ‘We have to solve this problem somehow,’” Silva explains. Silva was working in oncology at the time. 

In his first attempt to solve the problem, he established a specialty pharmacy that directly sold products to patients. This pharmacy incorporated innovative features, including a call centre, where patients had access to a personal health coach and a patient relationship management (PRM) app with a similar purpose as a (CRM) to substitute traditional patient support programs. 

Despite great interest from patients in using the app and utilizing the texting option as well as the support they got from psychologists (health coaches), the pharmacy model faced challenges due to reluctance from pharmaceutical companies to sell directly. The narrow profit margins rendered the model unsustainable, which led to Silva’s strategic shift towards leveraging artificial intelligence for patient interactions and forming partnerships with pharmacies. “We learned a lot from that experience.” 

Incorporating loyalty programs and Alex Sanchez

Silva knew that loyalty programs could be advantageous in changing consumer behaviour. “I was curious how we could implement them into healthcare. Knowing this, a friend of mine introduced me to Alex Sanchez, and over some tequila, I shared my idea of using loyalty programs to shift behaviour among patients,” Silva shares.

“It was a light bulb moment when Fernando proposed integrating them into healthcare to improve patient adherence. I knew we were onto something revolutionary,” asserts Sanchez. 

Convinced of its potential, Sanchez shared with Silva that he was not only a marketing expert in loyalty programs, but also had a computer science engineering background that aligned with the project’s needs. Silva explains, “He said, ‘I can do this for you.’” 

Sanchez’s previous success with loyalty programs, particularly in negotiations and partner dealings, further validated the decision. As they delved into the project, Sanchez’s expertise became invaluable in shaping the loyalty-focused operations, marking the beginning of their collaboration. Reflecting on his journey, Silva notes that although there were some initial challenges, they were great learning experiences. He acknowledges that Sanchez has been pivotal in driving VITiaCARE’s progress, including developing the initial minimum viable product (MVP).

Other key personnel

During his tenure in big pharma, Silva observed a distinct organizational structure with a ‘medical head’ (someone with a strong medical background) alongside the sales and marketing professionals. Recognizing the importance of scientific expertise in marketing pharmaceuticals, he knew he needed an expert in the medical field to build robust data that would differentiate his products. 

Silva shares humbly, “I don’t claim to be the smartest person. I make up for that by knowing the importance of having the smartest people on my team. I am very strategic and can look ahead and see what is coming. I knew VITiaCARE needed medical expertise to build the data we needed to succeed.” 

Silva prioritized the need for studies to validate their approach and sought individuals with both medical and compliance backgrounds to guide their efforts. “I wanted to ensure we had someone who could navigate the complex regulatory landscape and provide expert guidance.” Kasia Hein-Peters, with her extensive experience in pharmaceuticals, medical devices and compliance, proved to be an ideal fit. Her proficiency in applying studies to marketing and knowledge of AI, as well as her strong medical background, further strengthened their team. 

“I believe in Fernando’s vision of using loyalty programs to enhance patient care. Together, we’re breaking new ground in healthcare, leveraging technology and medical expertise to empower patients,” Hein-Peters notes.

PSPs and lessons earned

Drawing from past experiences with patient support programs (PSPs), Silva shares the evolution of VITiaCARE’s approach. “In the early 2000s, I collaborated with Eli Lilly on an osteoporosis drug. We faced challenges due to patients’ delayed symptom perception and lack of improvement despite medication adherence. To overcome this, we pioneered patient support programs (PSPs) in Mexico, incentivizing adherence with an extra month of free treatment after three months of compliance.” Silva shares that transitioning patients beyond the initial incentive proved challenging. 

He went on to work in oncology where patients faced even more difficulties adhering to treatment regimens despite assumptions of better adherence. “In oncology, I struggled to find a vendor capable of effectively communicating with patients about their care needs. Additionally, the complex network of stakeholders involved in patient care – including medical oncologists, oncology surgeons, pathologists, caregivers, and laboratories – highlighted the need for consistent and comprehensive information dissemination. Despite the critical nature of this information, not all parties had equal access or understanding,” Silva adds.

He realized his solution needed to bridge communication gaps within the healthcare ecosystem. “Patients needed to be educated explicitly on the treatment benefits and side effects to comply.” From these experiences, the concept of a specialty pharmacy emerged to democratize and centralize information so that patients and healthcare providers of complex diseases could get the information they need.

Silva explains, “Patient support programs have taught us valuable lessons. We’ve learned to navigate the complexities of healthcare, engage stakeholders, and adapt our strategies to meet evolving patient needs.” 

With all of Silva’s and his team’s hard work, VITiaCARE is now a tailored solution geared to improve patient wellness and cut down on the $290 billion healthcare price tag caused by complications from non-adherence to medications and treatment. Likewise VITiaCARE is improving health literacy and nurturing confidence in and compliance with physicians’ advice. The platform facilitates impactful dialogues between patients and doctors, employing a reward system with VITiaCARE Points and gamification to inspire engagement while also offering convenient medication prompts and home delivery services. 

The team has made a key partnership with Purex, a pharmacy chain in Mexico, leading to successful tests to seamless drug orders for home delivery, paving the way to launch a paid pilot to monitor patients’ adherence over six months, as well as improve patient outcomes while generating initial revenue.

“We aim to onboard 5,000 users and 300 doctors by the end of the first year,” Silva shares. He adds that preparations are underway for a US launch targeting the Hispanic population. The platform is also being adapted to meet the specific needs of different healthcare systems, and the team is exploring partnerships with independent pharmacies for additional pilot programs in the US.

VITiaCARE is the solution healthcare needs, bridging the gap between patient adherence and improved outcomes. By empowering patients with essential information, fostering trust in healthcare providers and streamlining medication management, VITiaCARE is not only bridging gaps but building a bridge to a brighter, healthier future.

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Written By

Jon Stojan is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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