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Developing a digital health solution that patients and HCPs will use requires creating technology that addresses unmet needs, integrates with clinical care pathways, and has strong user safeguards, writes Matt Norton.
Digital health is undergoing a revolution. No longer a “nice-to-have,” digital health solutions and digital therapeutics are rapidly becoming a vital component of the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to improve patient outcomes, facilitate more efficient care, and generate real-world evidence. However, adoption of digital health solutions remains one of the biggest challenges facing pharma companies.
Developing a solution that patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs) will use requires creating technology that addresses unmet needs, integrates with clinical care pathways, and has strong user safeguards, particularly in areas such as data privacy.
In order to create an adoptable digital health solution, identifying the right combination of services and functions that meet the unmet needs of all stakeholders is essential. We call this ideal solution that can be first brought to market, the “core adoptable solution” (CAS).
Unlike the concept of the “minimum viable product” (MVP) – something with “just enough” features to satisfy stakeholders – the CAS is a more nuanced and thoughtful approach to service delivery, better suited to healthcare. The result is a solution that alleviates pain-points, can be brought to market in a timely manner, rapidly scaled, and built upon in future to achieve long-term usage.
So, how can delivering a core adoptable solution work in practice?
Chronic illness and rare disease are areas in which digital patient solutions are already delivering significant value. By their nature, core adoptable solutions are all different – responding to a multitude of varying issues – but one example is a tool recently developed in partnership with a large pharmaceutical company for a rare degenerative genetic disorder.
Specialist conditions like this are life-long and require complex treatment and continual healthcare provision. With medication increasingly taken at home rather than in hospital, and side effects often difficult for patients to cope with, both the patient and HCP journeys are fraught with challenges.
In this scenario, the CAS needed to:
â Supply HCPs with evidentiary data to understand more about the condition and improve care
â Allow care teams to track disease progression and the impact of treatment on patients
â Help patients self-manage their condition and provide tailored patient support
To address these stakeholder needs, a secure digital solution – complete with both HCP and patient-facing portals – that facilitated the capture of clinically validated patient assessments was developed, using a cloud-based platform to host anonymised data and share insights among practitioners across the globe.
By taking the time to thoroughly map stakeholder journeys, identify challenges, and understand the behaviors that impact care provision, the CAS is now:
â Ensuring patients are assessed correctly, and clinicians can capture and use unambiguous assessment scores to make appropriate treatment decisions for their patients
â Driving best practice in clinics
â Facilitating timely access to appropriate treatment for patients
â Setup for future expansion to improve the patient and carer experience, provide better support to patients at home, and support a variety of clinical needs such as HCP collaboration, patient baselining and clinical KPIs
So, how do you know what a core adoptable solution looks like for your healthcare communities?
First, it’s important to understand the nature of adoption in this context. In the short term, adoption could be the initial up-take of a digital solution for use by an HCP or patient, while long-term adoption could relate to the sustained use and engagement with a digital solution by patients or care providers.
For a digital health solution to be successful the initial adoption must be right: patients must choose to incorporate it into their clinical care, it must produce usable data for physicians or care teams, and it must be capable of being integrated into existing care pathways and healthcare systems. To achieve this requires a clear understanding of the problem being addressed and the need a specific digital health solution will solve.
To gain this level of clarity, approaches like experience mapping can ensure your digital solution helps solve a real issue or challenge that stakeholders are looking to overcome. By analysing stakeholder journeys (whether patients or HCPs) pharma companies are able to identify all the challenges their end users are facing. It can be used to better understand the challenges facing particular patients on their journey to manage their health, but also to consider the different roles and challenges of the various HCPs who provide their care. It is important to fully consider the spectrum of HCPs and how a solution will integrate with their varied roles and workflows.
Equipped with the insight gained from experience mapping, a solution can be developed that provides the greatest value across your entire stakeholder map, ultimately motivating usage and driving adoption.
From a healthcare professional perspective, the focus should be on services that are essential, but currently unavailable or not being done well. To encourage adoption, the solution needs to be meaningful and seamless to use, requiring no additional time commitments from an HCP. While ensuring it is well integrated with the existing healthcare system will provide the right incentive for it to be adopted into everyday practice.
For patients and carers, a solution that meets their clinical and emotional needs will deliver immediate value and sustain their adoption and long term interest. This means identifying a service that goes beyond clinical requirements and addresses issues such as the initial distress after diagnosis, medication adherence, or encouraging patients to see HCPs more regularly.
Patients need to feel like they are part of the solution, so digital health solutions should give them a sense of ownership, greater understanding, and confidence to take control of their healthcare and not just be passive recipients; a key adoption hurdle throughout the patient journey.
Behavioral science techniques can also aid the experience mapping process. Approaches like the COM-B model (“capability,” “opportunity,” “motivation,” and “behavior”) take into consideration multiple components that impact behavior, including a person’s physical and psychological ability, reflective and automatic motivation, and external factors, such as social and physical opportunities.
In taking such a holistic approach, pharma companies are able to map the behavioral challenges that could be a barrier to adoption and identify relevant solutions. For example, habit loops (unconscious decision-making patterns) are often a primary barrier when it comes to adopting new technology or ways of working; it’s human nature to prefer the familiar. But, if you’re aware of which habits affect health – or, more specifically, which habits affect the problems you’ve identified – then you can look at how to form better habits, using your solution to influence this.
Integrating evidence-based behavioral change techniques into the development of digital health solutions from the outset allows you to clearly identify the needs your digital solution will address, the target behaviors you’re trying to influence, and ultimately be confident in the adoption of your solution in practice.
It’s true: pharma can no longer ignore the potential of digital health solutions such as these. But simply focusing on new technologies and opportunities isn’t enough to improve patient outcomes or encourage widespread adoption, these solutions often need to demonstrate clinical efficacy.
The key to overcoming the adoption challenge lies in understanding the healthcare context in which these digital solutions will operate: understanding behaviors, motivators, and barriers; identifying the core problems that need addressing; and assessing a variety of options based on the value they could provide to all stakeholders.
By using this information to create a core adoptable solution, pharma companies can iterate and scale on something that has been measured in the real world, building on initial success and demonstrating a quicker ROI for internal pharma stakeholders.
Now is the time to ensure that meeting this challenge produces effective tools and services that radically improve patient care and delivers solutions that HCPs and patients alike will willingly adopt as part of their personal healthcare journey.
Matt Norton is Director of Strategy and Client Solutions, S3 Connected Health.