Empowerment not disruption: applying technology for better treatment outcomes
Communication as high-value service
Will we ever see the day when healthcare communication is seen as just as important as the actual physical treatment? Ten years ago very few people would have thought so.
Today, things are changing as we in the industry switch our focus from product delivery to looking more at outcomes – but there are major barriers to overcome.
Driven by outcomes focus
A big factor in getting the right outcome is the success or failure of the communication that surrounds each treatment. The doctor needs: to be informed about exactly what the treatment is for; what the dosing should be; and understand any potential interactions. He or she then needs to elicit the right information from the patient to make a diagnosis and explain the condition and its treatment. And the patient needs understanding to comply with the treatment dose and frequency. It all relies on communication.
Right now we often look at communication as an ‘add-on’. We have a great product and then look to support it in different ways. Yet this too is changing.
Ensuring successful interactions in treatment is starting to be seen as part of the ‘product’. This is the kind of overlapping relationship between product and services that Apple pioneered and we now see everywhere – Uber taxis, Tesla cars, Amazon and Google’s personal assistants. And it’s coming to healthcare.
"Right now we often look at communication as an add-on."
Changing stakeholder relationships
Treatment decisions are moving ‘downstream’, in the sense that ever more decisions are made in conjunction with patients – and with growing input from other stakeholders like governments, patients groups, pharmacists and relatives.
This is changing how we communicate. Pharma and medical device companies know that we can’t only talk to the doctor and ignore everyone else involved anymore. We have to look at the healthcare environment holistically, and understand and enable the multiple interactions that produce successful outcomes.
"Pharma and medical device companies know that we can’t only talk to the doctor and ignore everyone else involved anymore."
Empowerment not distruption
One area of interest recently has been to look at other industries and see how they are using technology. It’s fascinating and inspiring but it quickly becomes clear that it’s not as simple as just importing or adapting solutions from other sectors.
The way that technology is applied in other industries is often to remove the ‘middle-man’, thus empowering people to do things for themselves. Nobody calls a travel agency anymore. You book everything yourself online. Even when we check-in for a flight we do it ourselves now because it’s more convenient – removing yet another middleman.
"Rather than disrupt and reduce, why not empower everyone to the maximum level possible?"
Empowering people to act themselves is clearly important. But in healthcare we need all the middlemen. We can’t skip the doctor, the nurse, or the pharmacist while trying to improve the experience for the patient. And nor do we want to. What we can do is make it easier, more convenient and relevant for everyone involved.
Rather than disrupt and reduce, why not empower everyone to the maximum level possible?
The role for technology
We can think about this empowerment in terms of some really big goals.
First, everyone – healthcare professionals, patients and their families – should be able to find the treatment information that they personally need. Then patients should be helped throughout their treatment with issues like adherence to get the best possible outcome. And, just as important, we must enable healthcare professionals to respond to a changing healthcare landscape and new patient expectations.
Technology can have a big role in each of these. Today it’s possible for doctors to speak with patients using a web conference. It’s just as possible for patients to get access to a personalized website packed with information following a diagnosis. We can also use technology to help patients explain their condition to family members with a mobile application.
The technology is often there already, so what’s the problem?
New kinds of challenges
While technology offers tremendous opportunities, it’s not as simple as just creating tools and handing them over to healthcare professionals. There are issues of trust and credibility that are real barriers. There are questions of mandate and the extent to which we should be involved. Where do we draw the line? And who determines this? There is also the complexity and confusion potentially created by having competing solutions in each disease area.
"We’re far beyond using technology as a marketing gimmick. Valuable services are being built around products right now."
These are real problems and they won’t get solved overnight. But companies are working on answers. There’s an increasing awareness that cooperation between companies and coordinated effort will be required. We didn’t used to have these conversations.
We can also look at the specific areas of opportunity that have already benefited from the application of technology – like enabling customer-facing staff to provide more value to HCPs. We’re far beyond using technology as a marketing gimmick. Valuable services are being built around products right now.
It’s said that creativity doesn’t happen before you start work but when you get going. If that’s correct, then we can be optimistic about achieving our goals to improve outcomes. The pilots and projects running today are not only testing the usefulness of the technology but also building skills internally and encouraging new ways of thinking. If we’re already working in ways that were unimaginable 10 years ago, what will the next decade be like?
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