30 May 2023

No more box-ticking: the rise of digitalisation will finally put patients front and centre

Aneesa Sajid

Pharmaceutical companies increasingly claim to be ‘patient-centric’ – a ‘tick-box’ buzzword used primarily to improve their image over the past five or ten years1. However, there still appears to be insufficient patient involvement in the development of drugs that they’re taking. This is despite the fact that, in digital health, patient empowerment is core to the uptake and engagement of digital solutions.

This blog explains why the traditional role of the patient within the drug development process has become unsustainable and how digitalisation is driving rapid change. We examine how digital health companies can avoid the pitfall of low patient involvement and instead become truly patient-centric, and how digital assets can help pharma win back patients’ trust.

Breaking with tradition

Despite being the end user of healthcare products, the patient voice has traditionally been under-represented in the drug development process. By prioritising approval from other stakeholders – such as payers, regulatory authorities, and physicians – organisations often miss the follow-through that is necessary to be truly patient-centric.

Organisations that develop life-enhancing treatments must start adopting a more holistic approach if they are to develop a firm understanding of the challenges that patients face in their daily lives. In fact, it’s now crucial for pharma companies to involve patients throughout the whole drug development process.

To illustrate this point, our recent webinar with a patient influencer highlighted an important and growing sentiment amongst patients: “nothing about us, without us”. Many patients and patient influencers are starting to care less about patient-centric messaging until the time when they’re seeing or feeling a genuine difference in how they’re treated – an important consideration for companies that care about their brand credibility.

Digitalisation as a driver

By helping patients to become more empowered and engaged in their own health, digitalisation is driving change and decentralising health care. In the past, decision-making was controlled by a limited number of key individuals and organisations, such as HCPs. Today, however, digitalisation means that the experiences and opinions of patients, previously regarded as less important, matter much more. This has put patients on a more equal footing with HCPs and increased their responsibilities and influence regarding decisions that affect them2. The resulting benefits are wide-ranging, from improving access for patients to alleviating pressure on hospitals and HCPs.
Part of this change was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when many patients could access healthcare from home; for example, through virtual consultations for diagnostics and remote monitoring. As a result, patients can now take more ownership of their own health conditions than ever before.

Even if the foundation for decentralisation and digitalisation of healthcare appears to be in place, the centrepiece is needed for the change to work. Patients are that centrepiece.

Patient input in practice

Roche is a prime example of a healthcare organisation with a long-standing, heavy investment in personalising care and involving patients3. It recently developed a Digital Assessment Tool for people with spinal muscular atrophy. This was designed through a mixed-methods study involving HCPs and patients, and specifically used patients’ input. The results indicated that clinical practices may currently be missing meaningful symptoms relating to bulbar function in assessments, and that developing an in-home remote monitoring tool could provide this vital information4.

More recently, Roche has been partnering with Nye Health on a new project. It incorporates patients’ perspectives in order to develop digital health tools that can personalise and adapt to patients’ needs, giving them more control of their own health5. These two examples demonstrate why Roche is the archetype that other healthcare organisations should consider following.

Don’t get left behind

Real patient-centricity is happening, and companies must decide whether they want to become part of this change or be left behind. Ultimately, the success of any digital health solution will depend on the organisation’s ability to understand the patient’s needs and expectations. The patient-centric digital health journey offers an opportunity for companies not only to refine their patient-centric strategy but also to better understand, and thereby continually improve, their digital health solutions. Competitors will come in hard and fast, and those that can offer patients the crucial opportunity to play a pivotal role in healthcare decision-making are more likely to become a real threat.

Patient empowerment solves some key needs that have traditionally been unmet. However, like a revolving door, it’s highly likely that new, equally unmet needs will arise as a result. Therefore, it’s vital that companies are armed with a strong and agile digital health strategy to combat what is thrown their way; for example, the identification of tech illiteracy as an unmet need and barrier to access. We’ll be examining this particular problem in greater detail in our next blog.

Digital health services can offer increased patient empowerment and an equal share in decision-making; in turn, empowering patients to manage their health is instrumental to the success of any digital health solution. The relationship between patient empowerment and digital health solutions is symbiotic – you can’t have one without the other.

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  1. Pharmaceutical Commerce
  2. Challenges in decentralized health care
  3. The Big Pharma Firm That Saw The Future – The Economist
  4. Reverse Engineering of Digital Measures Inviting – Karger
  5. First Word Healthtech