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Digital health is changing medication adherence

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Omri Shor, co-founder and CEO at Medisafe, explains how pharma companies are employing novel technologies to address medication adherence.

Medication adherence is a $100B issue that affects more than half the world’s population. To help mitigate costs associated with nonadherence and improve patient outcomes, more pharma companies are employing novel technologies to address this growing problem.

With the rise of digital health tools, providers and pharma organizations are throwing their support behind various digital health medication adherence tools that have come to market in the past decade.

These digital interventions and their ability to improve medication adherence across different stakeholders are proving to make significant impact on lost costs, and more importantly, how patients view medication therapy. 

The pandemic has accelerated the use of digital health tools, both among patients and providers, with health systems welcoming its wider adoption.

This shift is likely to continue as patients welcome the active role digital health provides, while clinicians gain more insights into treatment adherence via tech-enable devices.

By employing digital health tools as part of a treatment regimen, providers are seeing a shift in how patients take medication, unlocking hidden challenges to medication adherence, and can deploy intervention strategies to support greater adherence.

As such, the role of digital health is now transforming the role of medication treatment in a multitude of ways, projecting a new future where health and tech overlap to support improved health. 

Clinical trials

One key area where digital health is helping to advance outcomes is in the world of clinical trials. Pharma orgs are employing digital health tools to measure adherence to dosing and intervals, a key component in demonstrating efficacy, presenting more visibility into a drug’s true outcome.

These new digital health tools allow pharma organizations to collect real-time adherence data to track not just that a participant took a medication, but also the time at which it was taken, and the dose taken.

This data can even be used to uncover patterns in medication-taking behaviors and to remove non-adherent participants from a trial.

Real-time visibility into adherence also allows drug manufacturers to design data-driven, adaptive trials. Armed with this data, pharma can feel confident adjusting protocols based on actual indicators while eliminating outliers that are due to poor adherence.

With a tech-connected network, clinical trials can be completed within a wider network of patients, no longer limited to geographical areas or a small segment of patients within a select group.

Connected digital health tools allow patients from all over the world to participate in trials, delivering a more robust report on a drug’s effectiveness and complexities to launch a more complete offering.

As the capabilities of medication adherence technologies continue to expand and the pharmaceutical industry increasingly recognizes the benefits of their use, the number of clinical trials utilizing these technologies is expected to grow significantly in the years ahead.

Mobile medical apps

The smartphone is rapidly replacing the pharmacist. New digital drug companions allow patients to receive custom, guided support with their medications direct through a smartphone app.

Serving as a ‘digital medical hub’ for patients, mobile apps alert patients when to take their medications while allowing them to record their history. The major draw of these apps is their cost-effectiveness: most apps are free and present drug information in a simple, easily understood fashion with animated graphics and daily engagement. 

As more patients adopt the use of mobile medical apps, their integration with physicians’ EHR systems present a more connected network where clinicians can monitor medication adherence in real-time and engage users on medication challenges.

Additionally, these digital platforms present a resource within patients’ hands to gather, engage with other patients, and gain insights on managing one or more condition. The digital apps even help manage multiple conditions and medications for patients with guidance on when to take what, and how.

Recent studies have shown the effectiveness of medical apps in improving adherence, with one study showing significant improvement in self-blood pressure monitoring among patients with hypertension who used an app. This improvement on adherence and guidance to patients is leading more pharma companies to add mobile medical apps to their deployment strategies for new and existing medications. 

Smart medicine 

In today’s technology-driven age, medicines can now keep track of themselves thanks to tech-enabled bottles and dispensers.

New smart pill bottles track when patients take their medications through sensors in a cap that detect when a bottle is open, or through sensors in the bottle itself that determine the weight of the remaining pills. Smart bottles can be used without an app or other technology, and they can be added to a patient’s preexisting framework.

This approach has also been employed for inhalers and injectable medications, using the same approach to track when patients use them. All this technology can be monitored through a digital platform accessible by patients, or into an existing EHR that can be monitored by clinicians.

But given that the technology is attached to the bottles themselves, they can be limited in their reach and use for greater means. For example, smart pill bottles can track when a bottle is opened but cannot track whether the medication was taken.

In one study, researchers noted an increase in self-reported adherence among patients who used smart pill bottles but no actual change in therapeutic levels, leading many to believe the smart bottles to be viewed as a spying device by patients.

As we continue to expand the field of digital health, technology will play a significant role in creating new pathways to care. With new medication adherence tools demonstrating clinical impact, the digital health space is expected to become more connected, and more patient focused to address the lives of patients, in the ways and spaces where care happens.

These future investments will also yield economic and clinical benefits, as simplicity, guidance, personalization, and effectiveness all work together to create an environment that is supportive of positive outcomes. By uniting technology that patients are already using around therapeutic areas and medications, the healthcare system has the potential to change the face of medicine for the future. 

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