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In the search for effective and efficient ways to bridge the urban/rural divide, technological advances are offering more and more solutions.
Where a patient resides is a major factor in the quality of healthcare he or she receives. Enormous disparities between urban and rural areas continue to persist. Even in first world countries like the US, rural areas are at a steep disadvantage compared to their urban counterparts. Longer distances between home and hospital, lack of public transportation, and even bad weather conditions are just a few factors that can prevent patients in rural areas from receiving the timely care they need. Standard solutions for these problems, such as bringing in more resources to underserved areas, are often cost prohibitive.
In the search for effective and efficient ways to bridge the urban/rural divide, technological advances are offering more and more solutions. Telemedicine, for instance, has helped transform the landscape. Now, as we enter an age of patient empowerment, in which patients have more opportunities to take control of their health, the future is even more promising.
Technological advances in drug delivery systems are one such opportunity. Giving patients more user-friendly drug delivery devices may improve both adherence and effectiveness for a variety of reasons. Among the benefits: the convenience to administer medicine from the comfort of home, and prevention measures that reduce the number of visits to a healthcare provider.
Technology will also improve the process of transporting drugs to remote areas, especially in developing countries. The issue of keeping drugs refrigerated from port to port, known as the “cold chain,” has always been a major challenge. It significantly drives up costs and stands in the way of patients receiving life-saving drugs. Innovations in drug delivery devices will help provide solutions.
3M Drug Delivery Systems is currently developing several devices with these issues in mind and here are some examples.
Hollow Microneedle Systems
Through 3M’s partnership with Panacea Pharmaceuticals Inc., in developing a drug delivery system for an investigational cancer vaccine, we’ve identified one very important way in which the 3M™ Hollow Microneedle Transdermal System (hMTS) could benefit patients in rural areas: it could potentially move an intravenous (IV) injection or a challenging intradermal injection from one that is typically administered by a health care provider in a hospital or clinic to one that may be administered at home by patients themselves or by a family member.
The administration process for the hMTS is very simple: place the applicator on the skin, press to initiate delivery, and wait for the injection to auto-complete. The hMTS is much simpler, faster and less invasive than an IV delivery. Also, unlike a standard needle and syringe, the hMTS microneedles are specifically designed to only reach the intradermal skin layer, helping to enable consistent and reproducible intradermal injections.
Unlike standard vaccines, such as a flu shot that is administered once a year, cancer vaccines may need to be administered once a month for up to five years, for instance. Because this device may have the potential for self-administration, a trained healthcare professional could teach a patient how to deliver it, so he or she doesn’t have to go to the doctor’s office every time the vaccine is needed.
Intelligent Control Inhaler
In the next five years, pressurized metered dose inhalers will undergo a complete transformation, with the launch of “connected” inhalers with integrated electronics that will help the patient to use their medicine more effectively. While inhalers may seem easy to use, far too many patients forget to take their medication and/or don’t use their inhalers correctly. In fact, in a 2008 research report, up to 94% of patients make mistakes when using their inhalers. There is now a major focus on overcoming these issues to ensure optimal dose delivery.
Building technology into drug delivery devices will go a long way to help solve those problems. For instance, sensing technology is built into the investigational 3M™ Intelligent Control Inhaler to deliver medicine once an inhalation is detected. The device can also be connected to a smartphone or tablet via a secure wireless connection to serve a number of purposes, including tracking time since last dose and offering visual instructions on how to properly use it. The inhaler then tracks adherence and monitors the key steps to take your medicine and can provide feedback via the app to improve technique.
The anticipated benefits of this technology will be improved patient outcomes, which, in theory, may result in fewer visits to the doctor’s office. Doctors will also be able to remotely monitor their patients’ compliance using the data that is recorded on the smartphone, potentially reducing the need for in-person visits.
Reaching patients in hard-to-reach areas has always presented major challenges. We believe that, by improving how drugs are delivered to patients, we can improve patient outcomes in every corner of the globe.
Louise Righton is Global Marketing Operations Manager at 3M Drug Delivery Systems
 Lavorini et al., 2008. Respir. Med. 102(4):593-604.v