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March 22, 2018

Recently, a close acquaintance of mine was diagnosed with amblyopia, commonly known as ‘lazy eye’. Doctors recommended wearing an eye patch and some routine exercises. As a curious caregiver, I decided to dig deeper and understand more about this condition. I found many people with the same condition discussing their experiences across online channels. I was also able to note down some of the treatment options and consult with our doctor before we could start on the same.

This episode made me realize that both patients and caregivers are increasingly relying on digital touch points, such as web, mobile, social media, and video, for finding information on disease conditions, patient assistance programs, and so on. DRG report on Digital Patient Journey states 69% patients look for online information while managing their condition, and 72% patients are interested in using digital patient support tools from pharma.

Emerging Digital Trends in Patient Engagement

Life sciences companies are focusing on keeping patients digitally informed with accurate medical information on diseases, related drugs, and devices through microsites, mobile apps, and informative videos. Rather than replacing healthcare providers (HCPs), the digital medium will complement the quality of healthcare available for patients. Platforms or patient healthcare portals such as ChARM PHR help users manage not just their personal health records and medication history but also care plans, immunization records, health and wellness tips, and so on. patientslikeme and other such patient networking portals connect people with similar medical conditions and help them better understand medication regime, side effects, and cost impact, among others.

In such patient networks, some members are key influencers or ‘digital opinion leaders’. Life sciences companies can collaborate with these community leaders to share their opinions and information related to new therapies, trials, and care methods with others. Social networking sites can also provide information on specific campaigns to access drug vouchers, coupons, health-tips, and so on. Companies are leveraging social media channels by creating community pages for disease condition information well within the required compliance and regulation. Unimetric’s report on pharma-social-media-trends states that most of the pharmaceutical companies are active on five out of six social networks with the majority preferring Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. MerckEngage is one such communication channel available across social media.

Digital technologies are now being leveraged to reduce medication non-adherence too with mobile-based trackers and schedulers, sensor-based devices such as inhalerssmart pillbox, and smart pills. Sensor-enabled medical devices such as oximeter and blood glucose monitor are capturing vital health stats for patients using their smartphones. These are transmitted to physicians and care teams, who provide patient-specific recommendations.

Enhanced Self Care by Digitally Empowered Patients

Combined, these trends are directing patients towards self-health management. Immersive solutions too are playing a vital part in helping patients manage their health conditions. Many are using virtual reality (VR) devices for understanding disease conditions, playing virtual games for stress and pain management, and so on. Artificial intelligence (AI) based virtual medical assistants (such as Melody) are guiding patients based on indicated symptoms or related questions. These bots are trained on medical terms, texts, and content to support patients and caregivers.

Pharma companies now must focus more on personalized content and targeted messaging – on the patient’s preferred channel, anytime, anywhere— for effective self-care. For this, patient data can be collected from various platforms, solutions, and channels available to gain actionable insights. In turn, this will help pharma companies improve their medical products. GSK and Merck are already making headway in that direction.

Empowering patients should also involve innovations in the form of drones delivering medicine supplies to remote places, brochures and leaflets to health camps, and so on; or GPS and sensor technologies transferring health vitals from remote location via drones. Care teams including HCPs can recommend digital services (which may include games) to patients for stress management, relaxation, additional medical information and so on.

How else do you think digital technologies will make self-health management easier and more effective? Tell us in the comments section below.

Parimal Nagtode is a Domain Consultant working with Life Sciences Sales and Marketing Center of Excellence at TCS. He has been working in the IT industry for 17+ years, associated with Life Sciences and HiTech industries. Parimal is currently working on innovation areas such as Digital Marketing, RPA, and Machine Learning in the life sciences domain. Parimal holds a B.Tech (Chemical Engineering) degree from Laxminarayan Institiute of Technology, Nagpur


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