Pharma and the connected patient
How digital technology is enabling patient centricity
- Challenges, strategies and future enablers for adopting digital technology
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With over 260,000 health apps worldwide and 70% of patient groups using at least one app to manage their condition, it’s clear that a digital ecosystem has developed within healthcare. New research released by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions explores how digital technology can help pharma embrace patient centricity to remain relevant, profitable, and to deliver better health outcomes.
What is patient centricity?
Simply put, patient centricity refers to the process of developing positive healthcare outcomes through direct engagement with patients. Genuine patient centricity means understanding the patient’s experience of his or her condition, and what the individual patient values and needs.
There are five key dimensions of patient centricity:
- working in partnership
- working in a way that shows respect, compassion and openness
- empowering patients to take control of their own health
- sharing goals that are patient and family-centred.
Why is patient centricity important?
Pharma is at an inflection point where increasing risks mean many companies are now looking to demonstrate value for money through a combination of new pricing models, improved benefit tracking and the introduction of wraparound services that ‘go beyond the pill.’ There is a growing realisation that a new business model is needed if the industry is not only to thrive, but to survive.
Patient centricity is important because the insights gained by listening to the voice of the patient can be applied at every stage of a pharma company’s efforts, from drug discovery to winning regulatory approval, to post-market disease management. By engaging directly with patients and partnering with them across the entire pharma value chain, pharma companies can re-invent their business and operating model in order to re-vitalise the industry so that they can remain relevant, profitable and sustainable in the future.
How is digital technology enabling patient
- Mobile apps
Mobile health (mHealth) apps allow patients to better manage their care whilst also allowing for easier communication and evaluation of their health conditions by their communities, carers and medical teams. Pharma companies have begun to capitalise on the rise of health apps to engage more with patients. Pharma’s contribution to the ‘mhealth’ app market include:
- almost 70% of patient groups surveyed indicated that the patients whom they are familiar with use at least one health app to manage their condition
- in 2016 there were 260,000 mHealth apps worldwide, which collectively generated 3.2 billion downloads. Apps produced by the top 12 pharma companies in 2016 contributed 5.6 million downloads
- the number of apps produced by the top 12 pharma has grown at a rate of 48% (2012-2016.) However, on a year-on-year basis growth in the number of downloads of these apps are generating has begun to slow.
- Web portals
Patient portals are secure online websites that give patients convenient 24-hour access to personal health information via an internet connection, helping to drive patient engagement and activation. These pharma-created portals could help patients, providers and payers understand the benefits of a particular therapy, raise the profile of the sponsoring pharma company and create opportunities to reform the pharma business model.
Research shows that patients are increasingly comfortable using patient portals as a way of accessing their medical records and to communicate with their clinicians.
Wearables are smart electronic devices worn on or implanted in the body that incorporate practical functions and features. They often come in the form of smartwatches and other wrist-worn vital sign trackers, smart clothing, sensing tattoos, eyewear and medical patches. They have the potential to transform certain aspects of pharma's business practices as follows:
- transforming recruitment and retention in, and management of, clinical trials
- improving productivity across the pharma value chain
- monitoring adherence to treatments in real time to help predict or alert patients and healthcare professionals to changes in the patients’ condition to help avoid adverse outcomes.
Wearables allow pharma to become closer to the patient by providing real time feedback on their health condition. Capturing real time objective data will lead to ineffective trials being cancelled earlier and the ability to monitor and adjust treatments more quickly.
Challenges, strategies and future enablers for adopting digital technology
Based on extensive literature reviews, new primary research on the production and utilisation of health apps by 12 major pharma companies and a survey of 190 patient groups, as well as our experience working across the healthcare and life sciences sector, our report examines the barriers that pose a threat to pharma’s transformation as well as the strategies being used to achieve patient centricity.
Challenges in adopting digital technology
Overall, we identified six main challenges facing the pharma industry in its ambition to become more patient-centric. Specifically:
- the traditional product-based pharma culture can be at odds with the move to a more agile and responsive patient-centric culture - engaging differently with patients requires collaboration and co-ordination among cross-functional teams
- regulatory uncertainty with regard to digital technology and patient centricity – despite some guidance the rapid pace of technological advancement is adding to the already complex regulatory landscape, creating uncertainty amongst pharma as to regulators’ expectations and requirements
- data safety and privacy in the face of the proliferation of medical apps and other digital technologies – in moving from randomised controlled trials and anonymised data collection, to collecting identifiable data as part of a more patient-centric approach, pharma needs to ensure the highest levels of data safety, privacy and user consent are maintained
- corporate reputation can undermine patient engagement with pharma – largely due to past publicity about excessive pricing and a lack of transparency, public confidence has been eroded, reducing patients’ willingness to engage with pharma
- attracting talent with the skills to support a patient-centric ecosystem – pharma’s traditional risk averse corporate culture and perceived lack of agility and ‘fail-forward mentality’ that normally governs entrepreneurial endeavour can impact recruitment and retention of digital skills
- low levels of health and digital literacy impacts patients’ ability to engage effectively – with between a third and a half of people having low health literacy, this can undermine patient engagement with mobile health technologies.
Strategies to improve patient centricity
We identify five strategies that pharma are adopting to respond to the above challenges and help ensure that the vision of patient centricity becomes a reality. These are:
- change corporate cultures and structures, based on shared values and cross-functional working to promote agility, foster innovation and attract and retain appropriate talent
- develop partnerships to support the deployment of digital technology, including patient portals and engagement platforms, to help deliver a more patient-centric experience
- automate processes supporting patient facing activities and optimise use of digital talent which can benefit clinical trial management drug launch monitoring, and marketing content approval. The use of digital hubs can optimise deployment of digital talent
- create new contracting and pricing models, underpinned by patient information and insights, and generated through the use of digital health technology and big data analytics
- build collaborative relationships with patients, payers, healthcare professionals and regulators to improve health and digital literacy, and predict and manage new risks, including data security and privacy risks.
Future enablers of patient centricity
Looking to the future, pharma’s adoption of patient engagement strategies is inextricably linked to its digital technology-enabled transition to ‘wraparound’ solutions and a focus on improved healthcare outcomes. While “beyond-the-pill” or “around-the-pill” services have been talked about for some time, they are finally gaining traction. New disruptive technologies, partnerships and ideas include:
- embed blockchain technology to improve efficiency, safety and traceability
- adopt gamification to enhance patient engagement, health literacy and medication adherence
- use 3D printing to transform all stages of the pharma value chain
- optimise the potential of the connected patient to develop new outcome-based propositions
- make patients true partners in managing their own healthcare
- utilise non-traditional players’ experience of disruptive technologies and customer engagement
- adoption of distributed research networks and web-enabled virtual trials.
These technologies, partnerships and ideas will provide further opportunities to guarantee the sustainability and growth of the pharma industry.