Thursday, Jan 19, 2023

Enhancing the Patient Experience through Integrated Health Strategies

Sai ShankarPresident, Aptar Digital Health

Pierre LeurentPresident, Aptar Digital Health

HLTH Foundation

Working with patients on the development of digital health products is an increasingly important topic to maximize patient engagement. In a product development journey, there are multiple points where the patient’s voice must be heard, and guidance such as EUPATI or IEC 62366 already exists to support the industry to move into that direction. These guidelines promote patient engagement in specific product phases like Research & Development, product usability, clinical trials and testing, Health Technology Assessment or ethics committees. However, in practice, healthcare industry tends to focus more on the output (i.e the solution itself) rather than the value patients can bring when they actively contribute. This article describes several strategies to increase patient contribution in the development of digital health products and considers how to make personalized medicine a reality. 


Strategies to ensure patients engagement while developing health solution


The first and easiest way to ensure patient engagement when launching in the market is to consider their perspective. Deciphering the patient journey, from the appearance of first symptoms up to diagnosis and therapy prescription stages, understanding the healthcare system in which patients are living, as well as the emotional journey patients can experience, are all crucial for identifying existing gaps in the care pathway to deliver complementary solutions at the right time for the right need. 


Once this first step is achieved, it is important to make sure that the needs of the patient, as well as the reason for the product, are both considered from very early in the product design stage. Concrete, real-life needs must guide product specifications, changes and updates to maximize patient commitment. This strategy reduces the potential risk of having to change the product design later during the development and production process. Receiving feedback from end-users at a regular, milestone-based pace allows product developer to rework their product while there is still time to do so, avoiding usability or design errors. If a product is a complicated to use or non-intuitive, it may very well end up not being used.


A strategy to mitigate this risk is to establish a “partner” relationship with advocate patients. Patients decide if the product planned for development is worth using. Collaborating closely with a group of 4 or 5 patients committed to improving healthcare in targeted applications can bring more value than any investment in R&D. Going beyond the consultative role and making this collaboration an active contribution ensures that voice of the patient is considered before the solution hits the market.  


Finally, working closely with patients means that their feedback can be integrated and adapted as needed during the product development. The value of this collaboration is to bring a product to market that is both well designed and received by the end users (patients), thus encouraging immediate adoption.


Digital health, an asset to meet diversity of needs and enhancing patient experiences


However, patient involvement throughout product lifecycle development does not allow for meeting the needs of each individual patient, as of course each patient is unique. There is no such thing as an average patient. Therefore, for the past two decades, pharma bets on digital health to develop tools that collects clinical data outcomes on patients’ vital signs, treatment adherence and quality of life to make medicine more precise. 


It is not enough to have healthcare providers prescribe medication and assume that the patient will take it as directed. Likewise, it is not enough for pharma companies to manufacture a medication and simply assume that it will end up in the hands of the patient who needs it and knows instinctively how to take it. In fact, patients face additional clinical and non-clinical challenges when taking their medications. Failing to address these issues makes healthcare services and therapeutics more inaccessible to certain patient populations, further increasing gaps in health equity, quality of life and mortality rates.


Providers and pharma companies need to work together to create a comprehensive set of holistic services that go “beyond the pill” - giving patients training, education and support they need to take their medications properly. Through tailored education programs, ePROS, smartphone app push notifications or reminders and digital therapeutics’ medical recommendations based on clinical algorithms, digital health gives providers insights into how a patient is progressing - outside of medical supervision - to adjust treatment plans according to real-life datapoints.


By enabling more personalized medicine, digital health benefits both patients and providers. Patients receive significantly more support between consultations. It can help them self-manage their condition, strengthen their self-esteem and reduce their anxiety. Providers can keep a closer eye on patients, which helps prevent disease progression and reduce unnecessary hospitalizations – both of which lower overall healthcare costs. 


When developing digital health solutions, patients are an essential resource of knowledge. Working closely with patients and including their feedback are key factors for faster product adoption and engagement. Digital health opens the possibility of a truly participatory and personalized medicine, where patients can access adequate content and track their performance, increasing their levels of autonomy and empowerment.


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