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January 4, 2023
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What Does the Digital Patient Experience of Tomorrow Look Like?

Digital Patient Experience Matters

Healthcare is moving away from the traditional paternalistic, disease-driven model towards more patient-centric care which places greater emphasis on shared decision making and patient preference, putting patient’s values at the heart of clinical decision making. Patient-centric care is linked to benefits such as better treatment adherence, fewer hospital visits, and improved health outcomes. 

Increasingly, healthcare users in the US want to go a step further by taking the lead in their own treatment decisions, a phenomenon known as healthcare consumerism. People are seeking personalized care that is accessible in a convenient way. 

The digital health tools that are increasingly implemented at various touch points along the patient journey can help people to play a more active role in their own wellbeing, an empowering shift away from the traditional product-based style of healthcare.

Expectations Are High

Patients are the most important stakeholder in digital healthcare, and their expectations are a dominant force driving the market. In a world where we are surrounded by technology, today’s informed patients expect to have health information at the touch of a button, something which helps them to feel in control.

One such example is medical wearables, where the uptake of fitness trackers and monitoring devices is on the rise. These devices now go far beyond the standard fitness metrics, and through ever evolving technology some can even detect seizures or strokes

Digital Health and the Patient Journey Are Evolving 

Telemedicine, or remote consultation, has been widely adopted in recent times, facilitating timely and convenient access to healthcare providers. As technology advances and healthcare enters the metaverse, simple web- or telephone-based calls could be replaced by virtual reality (VR) consultations where avatars of patients and doctors can meet in a realistic setting.

VR is also gaining traction in the treatment of pain and anxiety and headsets could soon be commonplace in our hospitals. Evidence suggests it acts as an effective distraction tool for patients in settings such as pediatric hospitals, intensive care units, and as part of palliative care

There is also scope for digital innovation to improve user experience in hospitals by facilitating a more efficient and cost-effective journey from admission to discharge. Systems for electronic triage and prognostication are available but are not currently widespread.

One model, trialled during the pandemic, used artificial intelligence based on CT images, electronic health records and laboratory data to successfully assess risk at hospital admission and also predict outcomes in COVID-19 patients. Similarly, a neural network model that can predict which surgical inpatients can be discharged from hospital on a given day has been validated. Implementation of similar systems in the future could reduce time spent in hospital for individual patients and help to address ‘bed-blocking’ and its associated costs. 

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Putting Patients in the Driver's Seat

Patient Knows Best®, a UK-based company, created an app which stores a patient's entire medical record on their phone. Not only does this give patients more control over their healthcare, but it allows them to easily share their records with anyone, enabling smoother continuity of care. Currently this is limited by the number of healthcare providers that subscribe, but if uptake increased it could help more patients to play an active role in their care, something which healthcare consumers undoubtedly want. 

Also designed with patient-centricity in mind, Sidekick Health’s patent-pending Adaptive CarePath™ is an example of how a digital therapeutic solution can be hyper-personalized to suit a patient's unique needs. Real-time data analysis within the solution ensures patients receive tailored interventions when they need it most. With high levels of investment, digital health solutions that provide ‘beyond-the-pill’ treatment are poised to have an increasing impact on patients of the future. 

Barriers to Digital Patient Engagement 

Although many of these emerging digital solutions will work their way into everyday practice, there are challenges to overcome before patients can reap the full benefit. An overarching problem affecting patient engagement is low levels of both digital and health literacy. 

Gamification and the use of rewards can help to improve patient literacy and engagement and are key ways of improving patient-centricity. There is also a potential issue with willingness to engage, with one report finding that only 30% of patients are willing or somewhat willing to share their data with pharma. Clearly, digital health platforms must conform to patient engagement best practices by treating personal information securely and within the law; and work must be done to ensure public confidence.

For digital health to integrate with traditional healthcare provision, healthcare professionals must also be willing and able to engage with technology and collaborate with patients and pharma companies. Encouragingly, a survey by the AMA found that almost 90% of doctors see an advantage in using digital health tools.

Technological and Regulatory Challenges

Digital health platforms are of little use in isolation—they need to integrate with traditional, physical care to form a holistic and collaborative model. The big challenge here is the ability of different systems to share data with each other in a useful way, which is essential for the patient to have a smooth user experience. 

Also, the fast-paced and responsive nature of digital innovation is somewhat inconsistent with the typically slow-moving cogs of the pharma industry, making integration difficult. It is well known that it can take several years for drugs to come to market due to various regulatory hurdles in different countries. This slow and fragmented system is not necessarily geared up to regulate digital health technology. 

Reimbursement systems are also complex and variable between countries. Payers need to be open to the potential benefits of digital health technology. They too must shift to a holistic outlook and put patients at the heart of their decision making when assessing the true value of digital innovations.

A Future Full of Opportunity

The barriers to digital healthcare are slowly being broken down and patients are already seeing the benefits. The industry is responsive, and the technology lends itself well to personalization, making digital platforms the perfect vehicle for patient-centric care.  

For patients to engage with healthcare, and stick with it in the longer term, it needs to be accessible, easy to use and able to improve outcomes. There is a vast array of possibilities for digital health, but it is vital that developers form a deep understanding of what patients want and involve them in the development process to be truly patient-centric.

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About the author

Dr. Emily Atkinson

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