Amplifying the signal for new patient services
From diagnosis through treatment, the healthcare system can be complex and difficult to navigate as patients face hard-to-understand information and make choices regarding treatment and therapy options.
Happily, digital technologies and services have emerged to help patients adhere to treatment plans and monitor symptoms. When patients tune in to the new services on offer, adherence increases, quality of life improves, hospitalisations and emergency room visits are reduced, and survival rates rise. For example, asthma patients using a smart inhaler with sensors and GPS were able to understand and avoid environmental triggers, with a 78% reduction in rescue inhaler use and 48% more symptom-free days. Patients with cancer who used a smartphone app to monitor pain and identify urgent issues had lower pain severity and 40% fewer inpatient hospital admissions.
Evidence also shows diabetes patients who use a patient portal, especially those with multiple chronic conditions, have fewer emergency room visits and hospital stays.
Money is pouring in to the sector. Pharma companies are investing heavily in the space — the market for patient engagement solutions was worth US$8.8 billion (approx AU$11.5 billion) in 2017 and is projected to reach US$18.68 billion (approx AU$24.5 billion) in 2022, an annual growth rate of 16.2%.
Even as investment has grown, and user experiences remain positive, these new treatment aids are yet to deliver widespread benefits, due to low levels of awareness and adoption. New research from Accenture’s Global Patient Survey found that patient awareness of these services is no higher than it was five years ago. Adoption rates are also stagnant, even though patients who use the services find them highly valuable.
On average, just 16% of the 12,000 patients Accenture surveyed across Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA were aware of services that help patients adhere to their therapy or treatment plan. Only 13% of patients are aware of services such as remote monitoring and patient portals.
While the industry has invested in services to provide more care and support to patients, the proliferation of services has created more complexity for physicians and patients to navigate. Essentially, the most important messages are being drowned out by all the noise in the market.
The findings are relevant in Australia, where a mix of health professionals and service providers, across government and private sectors, intersect to provide patient care.
Looking ahead, if awareness and adoption levels remain flat as they have for the past five years, patient services will continue to have very limited reach and impact on overall patient outcomes.
It’s clear that, unless we can overcome the challenge of low awareness, we won’t be able to achieve the full potential of patient services. To move the needle, pharma companies must improve engagement with both healthcare providers and patients to raise awareness and use of patient services.
According to Accenture’s research, patients rank general practitioners and specialists as not only the top source, but the best source of information regarding the treatments prescribed for their condition, at 51% and 48%, respectively. Other healthcare providers including pharmacists, social workers and therapists also play a valuable role in sharing all available options with patients during their treatment. Conversely, only 6% of respondents said that pharmaceutical companies provide the best information.
It’s clear that healthcare providers play a critical role in providing patients with information and access to support services from pharma companies that are associated with the treatments they prescribe. Despite this — even as information they need to share is increasing — healthcare providers are spending less time with patients. For example, doctors are flooded with information about patient services for new and existing therapies, but have limited facetime with patients and spend hours on administrative tasks. In this dynamic, pharma companies must provide concise, evidence-based information that healthcare professionals can confidently pass along to patients. The services they design must deliver value to the patient and that value should be clearly demonstrated to frontline medical staff.
Patient engagement also extends to digital channels. Just as consumers research products on the web, online search and medical websites are heavily consulted before and after diagnosis.
The increased use of online resources found in Accenture’s survey also shows the importance of developing multi-channel communications programs to ensure that patients are surrounded with clear, easy-to-understand information about the services available to them.
Researchers from UNSW have advocated for electronic health records to be used as a tool for improving the flow of information between everyone in patient care — clinicians, support workers, patients and their families.
These solutions must put patient experience at the centre of healthcare design to improve the patient journey.
Increasingly patients are using digital technologies to manage their health care. This presents a tremendous opportunity for pharma companies to advance the adoption of digital patient services.
During the pandemic, more patients began using digital technologies in new ways to receive care and access information, and were even empowered to do more to manage their conditions themselves. In Australia, more than 40 million telehealth consultations were delivered by November 2020.
From virtual consults to using new devices or apps to help manage their conditions, patients are now more open to receiving treatment through alternative pathways. The result could be a game changer for patient services.
Now is the time to take advantage of the heightened interest in the use of technology and the ability to use data to personalise services to power hyper-relevant digitally enabled patient services.
Today, with patients and healthcare practitioners more willing than ever to leverage technology for care, pharma companies must rapidly deliver the information and services needed to help drive what could be a significant increase in not just awareness but use of patient services.
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