Why the Empowered Patient is the Key to Med Tech Innovation

by Andrew Wilson

Why the Empowered Patient is the Key to Med Tech InnovationIt seemed like this day would never come, but over 40 House votes, countless displays of partisanship, and one government shutdown later, the insurance exchanges are up and running.

The medical device excise tax is at the center of this contentious wrangling (despite managing to bring Republicans and a few Democrats together), and it will be some time before we know if the promised influx of patients resulting from The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will ultimately generate enough revenue to offset the medical device excise tax.

What we do know, as we wait for this fight to play out, is the state of US healthcare is not sustainable and additional tax revenue alone is not the solution— rising costs must be addressed in a meaningful way.

While Congress may see fit to shut down, the healthcare and Medical Technology (Med Tech) industries don’t have that luxury; innovation to develop products, services, and systems that are more effective and efficient is critical to solving the healthcare cost problem. While the majority of Med Tech organizations historically focused their sales and service efforts on their relationship with physicians, there is an increasingly vocal group, including doctors, patient advocates, and policy makers, who believe the key to healthcare innovation lies in empowering patients.

Because patients ultimately make decisions about things like diet, exercise, when to seek treatment, and disease management, they have an enormous influence on the cost and the effectiveness of their own care. In fact, some believe that 80% or more of healthcare decisions are made by patients, not medical professionals. The idea is that if we can empower people to be more informed and engaged in their care decisions, they will be the driving force behind improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system.

Assuming the care system does evolve in a way that empowers patients, many Med Tech organizations will be under increased pressure to incorporate features in their products that impact patient’s behaviors and help them make better lifestyle decisions. For example, imagine a pacemaker that can provide a patient with information in real time through a smart phone app that will help him become more conscious of decisions about sleep, diet, and exercise. These types of patient empowering innovations have the potential to dramatically change healthcare in the US (and worldwide). And Med Tech companies have the opportunity to drive this change; however it will require a shift in how they have traditionally learned about their markets.

As Med Tech companies race to innovate, they will likely hold internal brainstorming sessions, meet with physician advisory boards, and speak to their sales and customer service groups. The problem with these approaches is that it leaves out the most critical component— the patient, the key to successful innovation. To generate this intimate knowledge of patients, organizations need a plan—a change from how Med Tech organizations traditionally approach innovation. One that does the following:

1. Identifies what customers ultimately want and need from their healthcare. Talk to patients living with the disease state; understand their daily struggles, and what would improve their healthfulness.

2. Prioritize what matters most to patients based on the most pressing needs of the patients; organizations should not invest time and money in trying to address each item identified by patients. Fortunately, all wants and needs were not created equal. Instead, companies should focus on developing solutions that address those needs that are most important to healthcare consumers. Additionally, there are likely groups of patients that have different priorities, and organizations should consider whether and how they address these different groups.

3. Translates these prioritized wants and needs into solutions. Armed with a detailed understanding of what matters to healthcare consumers, organizations can apply their expertise to develop elegant solutions that satisfy the most critical unmet needs.

4. Establishes metrics that indicate whether the solutions they have developed are truly empowering healthcare consumers and adding value to the system.

Med Tech companies, along with the rest of the country, face a future of great uncertainty and opportunity; however it seems clear that in the context of the Affordable Care Act and the evolving nature of today’s care model, patients are going to become increasingly important. Med Tech companies will need healthcare consumer insight programs to uncover the wants and needs of their patients and discover the addressable white space. Their intimate understanding of their patients is enabling them to pull ahead and gain a decided competitive advantage. The winners aren’t going to be those who bring solutions to market first but instead those who can translate deep insight of patients into game changing products and services.

image credit: istockphoto.com

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Why the Empowered Patient is the Key to MedTech InnovationAndrew Wilson: As an Account Director at CMB, Andrew is responsible for collaborating with clients, including Bank of America, Covidien, GE Healthcare, Boston Scientific, GE Capital, and Microsoft, to design research for their unique situation, so that each client ends up with actionable results—research that tells them what to do not just how they are doing.

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  1. Empowered patient is a distant dream. Focus should be on authorities providing right governance and thus protect interests of various stakeholders including patients. http://curatio.in – Healthcare Marketing Online

  2. As a patient, I have appreciated the moves toward “the engaged patient,” “the empowered patient,” etc. I’m 61, and plan to feel active and as young as I can for as long as I can. I’ve read, listened, and learned about the fast changes that are occurring in the medical field. As a retired teacher, I have good health insurance. I’ve continued to see these focuses on the patient, and I agree that the best place to start with managing your health is with yourself. It’s been easy for me to take my own blood pressure, and then record it on my phone on an Ap that shows trending charts and allows me to email the readings to my doctor. I have a Fitbit and use it to get inspired for getting 10,000 steps a day. I take my medicine carefully,exercise daily, watch what I eat, and pay attention to what my doctor and I discuss. He’s very forward thinking and is an expert and advocate for all of the new tech, and he definitely supports an educated and interested patient. All of this is great. However, I know many people who have never taken one step toward managing their own health. I have a radiologist friend who ignores just about everything that would benefit his health, and does not even go to an internist… he hasn’t had a checkup for years! I have women friends who refuse to go for any kind of physicals, and haven’t been to an OB since they had babies years ago. A close relative only goes when he’s sick, and has ended up in an emergency room several times over the years for all kinds of things: an ear infection left to go so long that it went into a mastoid infection, throwing up blood from a ruptured esophagus sustained during severe coughing from a cold, etc. Another relative also steadfastly refuses to go on a regular basis, despite having a long history of cancer in her family. She has only gone in when she had shingles, or when her back got so bad she needed surgery. Then she’s a terrible patient, complains about everything, yells at nurses for “hurting” her. And I need to mention that they both smoke. I have two other relatives who are so terrified of doctors, that they just about faint and cry over the sight of a needle, the mention of a test, and can’t understand anything the doctor tells them because they are not at all informed about their own bodies, and can’t get past their fear. My friends and family are not ignorant people: they’re educated and successful. This is just the tip of the iceberg: I believe that there are millions of Americans who don’t do anything to take charge of their own health. My own husband ignores all that he is advised to do: lose weight, limit drinking, quit smoking, get exercise. He has high blood pressure and diabetes and is a highly paid professional. So my point is that I see a huge divide between people: those who will take charge of their health and will work with doctors, and those who are not in the least likely to think about it at all, until they have collapsed from a variety of maladies. They can’t be enticed into a doctor’s office for a regular checkup, and only go when they are sick. I imagine that the health conscious person is part of a minority. I don’t pat myself on the back, I just find it important to me and my sense of well being. I’m not sure what can be done to pull more people onto the self monitered health wagon, when they aren’t even on the wagon of doctor directed health care. While encouraging people to be engaged is great, it’s difficult to address those who are in health denial. They are clearly going to get left even further behind…. and they are already missing the boat. However, I believe that you just can’t make everybody drink the medicine. One hundred years from now, maybe cultural changes will help many more to be in charge of their own health, but there will still be those who just let everything happen to them, without a single proactive thought of how to prevent or manage health issues.

  3. While most successful innovation programs ineed realise that we need the participation of users when designing better solutions, I fully agree with the previous comments… are the patients interested in more empowerment? I think we need to get a step back, and discuss how to attract their interest, what will be their benefit and how we can ensure that we find a good representation of patients in our area for our requested assessment needs.

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