What are patient-driven health technologies?
As anyone who works in healthcare will attest, patient-driven health technologies have taken centre stage in discussions around quality provision of healthcare. They encompass AI to design treatment plans, blockchain to secure patient data, 3D printing for patients in need of mobility devices, and other technologies and platforms that hold the potential to transform health care to the benefit and with the help of patients. We will run down some of the most interesting digital health trends and how they will shape the future of healthcare by putting the patient at its center and leading the way to personalized therapies.
Top 5 patient-driven health technologies
At its core, blockchain technology was created by a group of computer science experts to protect the privacy of people surfing the web. As such, it is purpose-built to address issues of data privacy in the digital world, especially when it comes to sensitive information such as health data. By creating a distributed network of stakeholders, blockchains ensure the integrity of data, making it immutable once it is stored on-chain. This technology’s most promising application is derived from patients’ need to gain control over the way their health data is used and with whom it is shared. Indeed, there are growing concerns over the way medical data is used, especially by tech giants or pharmaceutical companies. Patients advocate for more transparency and control over their health data and blockchain appears to be the only technology that can respond to their needs.
Health sensors and telehealth
The Covid-19 crisis revealed that the habit we all have to drive to the closest hospital or to our GP when something goes wrong might change in the future. Telemedicine has become a viable alternative to rushing to a doctor’s office and it’s success during the pandemic showed that patients are willing to change the way they consume care when needed. In France, the government decided an extension of the 100% reimbursement of telemedicine acts until December 31, 2020. Indeed, the weekly number of medical teleconsultations had peaked around one million since April, even if it fell by a third in May after the end of the lockdown. As such, telehealth is a great example of a technology whose usage has been patient-driven at a time when it appeared to be the only solution to ensure the continuity of care.
Health sensors go hand-in-hand with telemedicine, as they allow patients to maintain a good level of health from their homes. Most patients are, by now, familiar with wearables such as the apple watch, ECG devices or sleep sensors that make everything measurable from blood pressure to respiratory patterns. But they also expect their medical team to be able to extract insights from these wearables for an educated diagnosis. Undoubtedly, the adoption of these remote monitoring tools by physicians will be pushed by their own patients, advocating for a more continuous follow up of their health, from the comfort of their homes.
Digital therapeutics (Dtx)
For years, patients have been reporting the lack of adequate digital solutions for mental health. However, the situation is slowly changing with the emergence of digital therapeutics. Virtual reality, for example, represents a great hope for patients with psychiatric diseases. It can recreate calming environments to battle anxiety or treat phobias. In psychiatry, studies showed that adopting DTx in combination with drugs could be more effective than traditional treatments alone.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first game-based digital therapeutic device called EndeavorRX to improve attention function in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and will be intended for use as part of a therapeutic program.
According to biomechanist Jacqueline Alderson, the digital twin could be defined as “a real time virtual digital replica of a system and a device and its processes, something that has real-time capabilities that is able to diagnose its own health status then diagnose issues associated with that”. This represents an important step towards personalized medicine and the capacity to test and prescribe the best therapy for a patient using the virtual representation of the human body and its organs.
As an example, Siemens Healthineers is developing a digital twin of the heart with similar dimensions, electrical signal activation and muscle contraction as the patient’s real heart. It is truly a personalized physiological model of the patient’s organ.
Voice computing is a very specific branch of AI that deserves to be considered as a trend on its own given the strong impact it can have on healthcare. According to Bill Rogers, Orbita CEO : “Voice allows for natural, hands-free experiences”. In fact, devices like Pillo, Amazon Echo and Google Home, as well as solutions using chatbots and other AI-driven conversational agents, are engaging consumers in new ways. These voice assistants are entirely changing the way we interact with technology and can facilitate access to information and communication for everyone, no matter how well they interacted with previous traditional systems. These devices lead to remote patient monitoring and can, at the same time, reduce social isolation which is a non negligible benefit especially in elderly people. Starting by providing very simple information such as ways to treat a sunburn or what to do when your child has a fever, the next level of voice-powered assistants will be able to coach, educate and assist patients suffering from all types of diseases.
What are the benefits of patient-driven health technologies ?
Patients can help find solutions to their needs
Patients have increasingly been fighting and advocating for what is called “the patient empowerment movement”. Among them, Dave deBronkart also known online as “e-patient Dave” – where the E stands for engaged, enabled and educated, has been talking about this movement for a couple of years. He is the author of “superpatients” and “let patients help: a patient engagement handbook”, and here is what he has to say : “The mission of my advocacy is to help health care achieve its potential, not just for the patients and families who are trying to avoid a death or cure a chronic condition or something, but also for the people who saved my life.”
There is no doubt that the e-patient movement is here to help involve patients in the decision-making process leading to the development of digital solutions for them.
Patient-driven health technologies call for a collaborative approach
Patient-driven health technologies only accomplish half of their goal if patients alone are involved in their development. The patient-physician duo is essential in building market-ready solutions that not only respond to patient needs but also provide doctors with the adequate information to improve patient care. As Dr. Vinod Seetharam, Chief Medical Officer, Asia, DXC Technology, puts it: “Patient-driven care also benefits clinicians – they will be able to use their time more efficiently since contextually relevant information will be presented to them.” Digital health tech sensors used at home, portable diagnostic devices, data-collecting applications, all provide access to data in an unlimited and open way. The challenge remains to extract information and present it to the medical team so they can learn about a patient’s health and be able to set priorities when it comes to preserving it. Indeed, the key to clinician involvement in patient-driven technologies is the facility with which they can receive actionable insights from raw data.
Besides improving medical care by collaborating with physicians, patients can also have an impact on the way the drug development process is built. Initiatives like the Patient Focused Medicine Development (PFMD) have been formed as an equal collaboration among its members which includes both patient groups and the pharmaceutical industry. As such, the leadership and governance model adopted by PFMD ensures at least equal or greater share of voice for patient groups. Moreover, Nicholas Brooke, PFMD Executive Director, also advocates for more patient advisory groups: “The solution is to streamline patient engagement across the whole lifecycle of drug development,’ he says. ‘There is still work to do in terms of implementing a shared methodology and training patients and health professionals. But if we incorporate patient engagement early, the overall burden on the health system is lower – and the results are better.”
For far too long, patients have not been included nor concerted in the development of digital solutions, leading to apps and solutions that missed the point. This one size fit all process is counter productive now and patients themselves are raising their voices : “Patients are being giving access to and control of their personal health data and this is crucial because there is no one more invested in making sure that I live well with type 1 diabetes than me” says Kerry Sparling, author of the website “Six until me” and living with type 1 diabetes. For digital health to work it truly needs a team of both patients and experts willing to provide healthcare organizations the tools to fill unmet patient needs with the adequate technologies.