Innovative Healthcare Technology Approaches Are Key to Patient-Practitioner Engagement
Healthcare dynamics are shifting: the rise in patient-centricity, mobile health solutions and real-world evidence are shaping a new healthcare ecosystem around patients as individuals. Dialogue between patients and doctors is vital to their engagement, and we need to make the most of technologies which facilitate this.
In clinical practice, the patient is no longer seen as a passive recipient of care and there is a growing expectation that they want a greater level of involvement in it. Recently, 3/4 of patients surveyed suggested that if it was easy to electronically access their own health records, it would improve their understanding of their health and their patient-to-physician communication.
In drug development too, an increased focus on late-phase and real-world research is connected to a move away from a perception of the patient as the homogeneous anonymous subject of clinical trials. Patients in a real-world study follow the treatment in diverse and nuanced ways, and the data collection tools used need to be responsive to (and reflective of) this. As such, the line between study subject and patient is blurring, and the technology we use to gather data needs to become more closely aligned with the technology involved in our day-to-day healthcare experience.
When coupled with rapid new developments in health technology, intuitive and forward-thinking data collection technologies have new channels to nurture healthcare engagement, facilitating a patient’s management of their healthcare information and a stronger dialogue with health care professionals (HCPs).
Clearly, it is mutually beneficial to both drug researchers and patients and practitioners that healthcare engagement is nurtured. In an ideal situation, this creates a positive feedback loop: patients and staff feel valued, listened to and empowered; they are engaged to a level that they provide consistent and valuable real-world data; this goes towards influencing and advancing care.
Intuitive approaches to electronic data capture systems (EDCs) are crucial to joining the dots between patients and HCPs, the data they produce and the drugs they use. As a result, one of the biggest challenges in developing a successful EDC is in understanding and overcoming common obstacles to engagement.
In the case of HCPs, this is often rooted in a sense of being undervalued and overstretched. Where engagement comes through staff having a role with clear responsibilities, independence, and involvement in decision-making, it is often reported they have very little time and resources, and no standing to impact the organisation’s management or aims. Given that the choices they make every day directly influence a patient’s quality of care, this can leave HCPs feeling unmotivated. As a result, patient engagement goes down andstudy dropout goes up, impacting medicine from research to the point of care.
Regarding patients, it is safe to say that when they are feeling unwell, many do not look forward to learning that they must attend more doctors’ visits. No one relishes the idea of sitting in waiting rooms, filling out forms or trying to navigate the maze-like corridors of a hospital. In the US, the cost of become a patient is the leading cause of bankruptcy. Naturally, it is extremely difficult to engage people who are trying their best to avoid contact with the healthcare setting.
Alongside this, further common barriers between patients and HCPs include:
- Language: A rising number of Americans speak English as a second language, which can discourage them from contacting/seeing a HCP.
- Location: Patients that live/work far away from their doctor are 15% more likely to not attend their check-ups. They are also 8% less likely to maintain important diabetic screenings.
- Social factors: Patients who have a strong circle of family and friends are more likely to manage their health in a more consistent way. Patients who live alone and do not have many social interactions are less likely to do so.
There is a clear public engagement with personal health through smart devices, so how do we translate this to the medical environment?
When HCPs have the time and resources to be in dialogue with their patients, the healthcare experience improves. When a doctor informs a patient of the dangers of smoking, the patient is 30% more likely to consider quitting. Yet, time constraints limit the value the of these face-face visit to an HCP.
Lack of control is also a strong contributor to why patients struggle to attend healthcare appointments. The Royal College of General Practitioners found that patients across England face waiting longer than a week for a GP or practice nurse appointment on more than 100million occasions by 2022. When patients cannot get appointments, it leaves them feeling let down by the healthcare service and results in them seeking alternatives such as hospitals which will cause the pressures on A&E’s to intensify.
The success of wearables and health tracker apps point to ways in which we can combat this. We already have access to data regarding our general personal health and it is clearly important to us. As such, smart devices, apps and wearables have a huge potential to take the strain off HCPs. The technology’s possibility for remote health check-ups would keep more patients more informed, and boost healthcare engagement.
In turn, this translates to more intuitive approaches to health technology. When combined with smart devices, EDCs become more accessible and data-entry more routine — this could be done by the patient through an app. This also means that RWD can become wider-reaching and more accurate: treatment progress can be monitored remotely, frequent visits to the doctor become less necessary and patients have more access to information regarding specific treatments.
New devices are opening up more points of contact with patient health, so how can health technologies capitalise on this accessibility and boost engagement?
Normally, patients participating in a real-world study will read an information sheet, sign a consent form and hear no more about it. Having a section where the patient or doctor can go to learn more about the study and find relevant news and publications invites a personal interest in the study and offers a sense of continuity.
Patients may have questions about the study, but feel it is not important enough to bother their doctor. An FAQs section allows patients to obtain the answers they need without feeling like they have wasted anyone’s time.
Live Chat and Patient Forum:
This encourages communication and collaboration between patients and doctors who have questions for each other but struggle to find the time to get in touch or attend an appointment. Both parties benefit from a messaging system that reduces user frustration over missing information, decreases patient anxiety over attending appointments and therefore reduces the need for multiple visits, and subsequently expenses.
A patient forum would allow patients to chat with each other about their experiences, offer support and ask questions. A study found that patients who managed their disease in a peer group had significantly higher patient engagement scores than the control group.
Reports on health outcomes allow patients to see their progress, which creates a sense of continuity. They can also be used as a motivational tool to get patients to take their health more seriously. If a patient could see that their lung function was declining, they may decide to stop smoking. This could lead to a reduction in patient drop-out as they want their health to start, or continue, to improve.
Reports can also be used to assess the quality of study sites. Users can identify themselves if their site is performing well or under-performing and can then do something about it. This allows the sites to be proactive about the quality of data they are producing.
Fundamentally, engagement amongst patients and HCPs will be improved by ensuring that the healthcare technology we develop is as intuitive and flexible as possible. This means that it must facilitate the easy collection, management and sharing of medical information to both increase the value and effectiveness of RWD and improve the healthcare experience for all involved.