We are on the cusp of a global healthcare revolution. If the past 16 months showed us anything, it's time to invest in digital platforms and solutions that can drive better patient outcomes and feed a more robust innovation pipeline. The pandemic accelerated adoption of digital healthcare tools for both patients and HCPs. But, though digital is giving patients greater access and awareness of their health, many hurdles remain. Healthcare and tech must come together to create privacy-conscious and consent-driven solutions, or they risk stifling patients’ chances at using their personal data to effectively manage their own health.
Digital healthcare isn’t new. Once-disruptive, data-driven concepts like direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription platforms and bespoke product formulations are cropping up left and right. These innovations have spurred digital healthcare’s transformation from nice-to-have to must-have, even within regulatory markets rigorously focused on patient privacy. And, while we can all agree that privacy is crucial and patient data must be safeguarded, assumptions of overwhelming restrictions and over reliance on third-party data have made innovation tricky.
Patients Have Data—but Don’t Know What to Do With It
Patients today are armed and empowered with more personal data than ever —collected through wearable devices, exercise apps, diet tracking apps— and now they’re turning to HCPs to help make sense of it. While digital has made gains in use like telehealth, there’s a renewed opportunity for healthcare —whether it's pharma, payers, or HCPs—to leverage digital to meaningfully inform and improve treatment.
Current practices limit valuable dialogue about patient treatment experience. The tiered model in the United States, for example, plays out like a large game of telephone: pharmaceutical companies talk to their reps, who speak to HCPs, who in turn talk to their patients. It’s a lot of middlemen; there isn’t a clear connection between patients and treatment innovators—information that can fuel new breakthroughs and better treatment outcomes.
Now think about this through the lens of a patient: consider how difficult it is to access medical records from your previous doctor after moving to a new community (or country). If records are digitized at all, it’s on hard drives stored on premises. Even patients trying to access or willingly share their records with a new HCP can create confusion within a complex process. And there you have it: patient autonomy -- and their right to own their own data -- is lost in the red tape intended to protect them.
The Challenges: Protecting Patient Privacy and De-siloing the Innovation Landscape
I recently saw this disconnect come into play while working with the MediaMonks Labs team, who put together a report on how to heal healthcare through digital innovation. As part of the report, the team created a prototype tool that translates medical jargon into plain English. The noble goal of the tool: to make it easier for patients to read and understand their medical report. So "lesion on the epidermis of the axillary area” is understood as simply a "wound on your armpit".
The tool draws its definitions from the Harvard Medical dictionary to ensure translations are accurate and relies on Google’s Cloud Vision API to recognize the text. The prototype is a useful proof of concept, but hit a snag in its development: given privacy concerns and regulatory restriction, one can’t simply send personal medical information off to Google (or any other platform) without knowing exactly how that data will be used or how it will be stored. The challenge illustrates the need for greater partnership with tech platforms to develop secure, privacy minded pipelines to transfer medical data and give patients greater transparency into how their records are kept.
Two Takeaways: Start with Content and Experiences Patients Can Trust
Patients want more control of their health, and healthcare brands seek data they can use to improve treatment. So, what two things can they do today to build a closer relationship with their patients?
- Content. Content. Content. Anyone who has doom scrolled through WebMD will understand there’s a hunger for medical content you can trust—people are keen to research at every stage of their treatment journey. Brands interested in understanding their users and developing content that’s more relevant for patients can leverage first-party, privacy-compliant solutions, such as Customer Data Platforms.
- Digital treatment experiences have also seen a lot of success. This is more than just translating your standard doctor visit to digital; it’s a growing industry of specialized direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical brands that cater to every step of the relationship from formulating/white labeling drugs to delivering compelling content and connecting directly (and compliantly) with patients through digital. Treatments for common conditions with OTC solutions are ideally suited for this kind of experience-driven exchange.
The undercurrent in both opportunities is that patients want fast, easy access to medical information they can trust. They're already seeing value in exchanging their personal data for better health outcomes via technology such as smartwatch blood pressure or heart monitors. As demand for digital healthcare continues to build, brands can support patients by tapping into those needs and amplify those efforts by building partnerships rooted in privacy.
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