Andrew Hill at Capgemini looks at why new technologies and greater data transparency benefits both patients and life sciences companies
Significantly pushed by the pandemic, our healthcare systems have seen an uptake of digital technologies at a rate much faster than anyone would have anticipated 18 months ago. As we face a new world of healthcare where robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) become the norm and new technologies and approaches help us to develop medicines at record speed, we have a glimpse of a future healthcare system that is more efficient and reaches more people, at the right time, in the right place, with the right solutions.
However, the new technologies face questions because of the way they impact patients. Patients want to know what is in it for them. If they can see better treatment, greater transparency, and benefit from a truly seamless experience, they will want to know what the implications of that – the upsides may be becoming clearer, but what are the costs?
The pandemic has resulted in not only the uptake of technologies and new ways of working but, for example, vaccines have become something that patients are actively discussing, whether protein-based, viral vector or RNA options are superior, and people are referring to brands like household names – Pfizer vs. Moderna vs. AstraZeneca etc.
Meanwhile, the data available to healthcare providers from consumers has grown at an unprecedented pace. It has long been an objective of the healthcare industry to put the patient journey at its centre, but the events of the past year have spurred several changes which have enabled that to happen, for example remote consultations with doctors that previously had been seen as impossible are now commonplace, benefitting both patients and doctors in terms of time and convenience.
Until the pandemic, you could argue that the user experience in an industry like financial services was more digitally advanced than healthcare, with apps available that allow people to manage their finances at the click of a button from their mobile phone. The good news is that the shift to a more digital healthcare world means the sector is now catching up.
In the same way algorithms track our preference of jeans and cars for the retail and automotive industries and technology organisations leverage consumer data to improve their services, it is now possible to track potential symptoms and help guide patients to make the most informed choices about their health. The key here is the trade-off: your data for better services, and transparency around how data is used is a critical factor to build the trust needed for this trade off to happen.
The resulting convenience runs both ways, connected devices enable healthcare providers to monitor and measure our vital signs, for instance a patient at risk of heart arrhythmia might ultimately be able to use their device to relay vital information of an impending attack whilst walking down the street, resulting in an ambulance being sent directly to them along with a full history for the medics inside.
Scaling trust and transparency in clinical trials
This trend of unlocking the power of data to enable more tailored and effective healthcare services, continues with the transparency that technology brings to ensure drugs are better tested and regulated and therefore safer for consumers. It allows patients to become more aware and active in terms of getting involved in clinical trials – in part because of the way that the pandemic is helping to change the way clinical trials themselves are run. Again, this has the potential to be mutually beneficial for patients (who have more access to more trials for their specific conditions) and Life Sciences companies (who can find greater numbers of more suitable patients to improve the safety and quality of the drugs they are producing).
It is early days but specifically this means that instead of having to go into hospital, participants are now able to join distributed clinical trials where they can be monitored remotely with sensors tracking whether drugs are being administered correctly as well as the effects that any treatment is having.
Wearable technology allowing convenience and closer monitoring is one example of new technology. A second is how tracking social media allows gathering of larger and better amounts of information from a broad and disparate group of patients. For instance, if people report symptoms across social media forums it provides the means to identify and track potential side effects of drugs which benefits not only the drugs companies, but also the patients themselves.
A recent example where reports surfaced of blood clots in women under 40 forming as a possible side effect of taking the COVID-19 vaccine is the type of situation where close monitoring, which the technology now allows, is obviously of benefit to everyone and the transparency can help prevent the rumours and different stories emerging by allowing a more fact-based discussion. In fact, the overall move to transparency where drug companies publish more data from clinical trials, allows patients to feel more confident about what is happening and it may even prevent examples where, in the past, there have been issues with drugs that have taken a long time to surface via more standard data analysis and campaigning. The bottom line is that access to more and better data benefits patients and drug companies alike.
Trading information for better healthcare
The information technology can unlock has the potential to enable better, more transparent, and more seamless patient experiences than ever before – but it needs patient data to do so. The question is whether patients will feel that the benefits are worth it or if the application of all the new technology will be sufficient to outweigh the ongoing discussions around the collection, ownership and use of data and patient information by the companies producing the medicines?
However, if consumers can see the collective benefits and lean into this trade-off more readily, the knock-on effect on our healthcare system will be enormous. Not only will this mean better personal healthcare services, but also could increase the safety of drugs.
- Andrew Hill is an account executive at Capgemini. He has worked in the Life Sciences sector for over 20 years and aims to help companies address their most pressing business and performance challenges by bringing business and technology solutions across the pharmaceutical value chain.