The most promising fields of patient empowerment
We are facing one of the most significant changes of paradigm in the history of medicine. Innovation is now driven by patients and digital health is a great example of the way patients are taking the lead in developing the solutions they need. For the past decade, patients and health providers have increasingly been using mobile technology to research information online, share experiences, find treatment options and, to an extent, help diagnose illnesses. But today, patients expect more. They want better health outcomes based on data-lead medical decisions, they want more user-friendly medical devices that can be used remotely, they want their doctors to optimize their health levels by interpreting data from their wearables. But unlike in the past, they are ready to take part in making their needs a reality by driving the tech revolution in healthcare. Here are some examples of areas in which patients are ready to engage to improve their care.
1 – Remote monitoring
Also known as remote care or home-telehealth, remote monitoring uses technology to monitor changes in patients’ health status directly from the comfort of their home. How does it work ? Healthcare professionals collect data from a system after the patient has interacted with it. The system can be a measuring device or a platform for a test. This can be particularly helpful for patients with chronic conditions that require continuous follow up. Indeed, remote-monitoring technologies can track and detect in real time changes in an individual’s health status, automatically informing the medical team and without having to wait for the patient’s next visit. For instance, some bio-sensing wearables collect data which are then uploaded to an Electronic Patient Record (EPR), providing physicians with a complete medical history and real-time information that can improve their follow-up.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a perfect example of a disease that could benefit from remote monitoring. COPD one of the most prevalent long term conditions. However, of the 3 million people living with COPD, fewer than a third receive adequate treatment. Solutions like Closercare show that remote monitoring is particularly effective in supporting patients with COPD in improving control over their condition. It is a telehealth service where referred patients with COPD or heart failure are provided with digital devices to monitor their own vital health signs at home, enabling health professionals to monitor patients’ health readings remotely. Healthcare professionals receive and review the patient’s information on a regular basis (blood pressure, temperature, oxygen), improving medical follow-up and ultimately leading to better outcomes.
2- Education and self-care
The four most prevalent features of diabetes apps available online are insulin and medication recording (62 %), data export and communication (60%), diet recording (47%), and weight management (43%). Many clinical guidelines also identify educational content as an important feature to help patients navigate their disease. The idea of engaging patients in the management of their own disease to empower them to make better choices based on verified information leads to better outcomes. However, this functionality seems to be missing from many diabetes apps. For patients with chronic conditions, the role of online access to information and of community platforms in improving health outcomes is significant.
The movement to more educated and expert patients is also very strong in mental health. Big White Wall (BWW), a safe online community, helps patients look after themselves with the support of trained professionals and clinicians. This platform, which is a multi-award winning digital mental health and wellbeing service, offers safe and anonymous online support available 24/7. In addition, it also makes available a range of therapeutic pathways, professional support and creative self-expression opportunities. Patients have access to evidence-based online courses, tips and clinical tests on topics including anxiety management, positive thinking, smoking cessation or even weight management. Counsellors are online at all times to moderate the service and provide further support for each patient.
In some areas, BWW can also deliver face-to-face therapy online, via its own experienced therapists or with NHS clinicians. This leads to patients having all the information they need to live with their condition and take the path of healing.
3 – Access to clinical trials
Clinical trials are long and expensive. Patients wait for years before gaining access to a new drug for their disease and pharma companies invest billions into innovation with all the risks that it encompasses.
Today, platforms like PatientsLikeMe try to bridge the gap between patients and researchers who are developing new drugs. PatientsLikeMe is an online patient community that is unique in both the depth of data it collects and the degree to which it shares with its members. They work for a democratic future where patients are the real drivers of change and innovation. This platform helps patients find clinical trials that are right for them and helps companies find patients who are right for their trial. Researchers, pharmaceutical companies and regulators can then develop more effective products, services and care. With currently more than 300,000 members and around 400 clinical trials, the information shared on this platform seems to be making a real change.
PatientsLikeMe also works on a platform designed to optimize patients’ health through what they call the “Digital Me” : a virtual version of the patient that combines data from many different sources to tell patients everything they need to know about the way their bodies function and might respond to certain treatments.
Finding information and communities online, building health technologies not only for patients but with them as well, will undoubtedly help improve outcomes and give researchers new insights to improve medicine.