Patient Engagement Moves Medtech to the Front of the Line

Patient Engagement Moves Medtech to the Front of the Line

By Brian Chapman

Brian is a principal at ZS and leads the medtech practice. He has worked with companies on a range of sales and marketing issues, including sales force effectiveness, organizational design, opportunity assessment, channel design, new product launch strategy, value proposition development, territory alignment and incentive compensation. Having spent time working and living in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Brian has significant experience with global projects. Brian is a frequent presenter at industry conferences, a prolific author in respected healthcare publications, and a contributor to ZS’s own publishing endeavors.

Beyond websites and advertisements, it’s time to think differently about patient engagement in medtech.

For years, as an industry, we thought patient engagement meant big budgets. Watching pharma and the massive direct-to-consumer (DTC) campaigns of the 1990s, concluding a similar approach wouldn’t produce a return on investment was easy because of the lack of blockbuster brands to justify such nationwide spending. The industry had clearly conflated patient engagement with mass-market campaigns. We also knew no doctor appreciated a patient showing up at pre-op consultation dictating what brand of stent to use.

With time we realized patient engagement means more than mass-market, DTC advertising. Enter patient websites, which are now table stakes. The necessity of explaining a procedure, device or condition to prospective patients is highly beneficial to therapy adoption.

As an industry we’ve also recognized the power of patient advocacy groups to drive therapy awareness, address access issues and help ease patient concerns about medical technology. Of course, more can be done, but this page from the pharma playbook is no longer unfamiliar.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the stakes rose. Patients were afraid to go to the hospital, so steps had to be taken to help them feel comfortable and safe, with the site of care sometimes shifted to outside the hospital. Patients also were apprehensive to seek routine care, leading to broken referral links. This spotlight on patient engagement has alleviated the old stigmas that cast engagement as expensive and wasteful. In 2021 we saw two medtech spots during the Super Bowl, and, especially with diabetes therapies, mass-market engagement appears to be proving effective. Even for products and therapies without such broad appeal and chronic application, targeted digital campaigns have proven to be highly effective for more modest investments.

All of this is great progress, but I argue we can go further to engage patients. Medical technology has an amazing opportunity to move from obscure plastic, silicone and metal devices used behind the scenes by surgeons in hospitals to digital engagement tools critical to helping keep people healthy.

Consider some well-documented examples of medical technology engaging patients with diabetes. Continuous glucose monitoring gives enormous insight into everyday management. Paired with insulin pumps or connected pens, it creates feedback loops with other devices. Data can be collected to help patients learn how their body reacts to food, exercise and dosing, allowing them to modify how they live. That data also can provide insights about patients’ unique physiology and condition, eventually allowing them to develop a personalized management plan. The benefits of the devices and an interconnected ecosystem are well-documented in patient engagement for diabetes management, even if many of these innovations are only relatively recently entering the scene.

We can go beyond this and see how patient engagement can improve outcomes in areas such as orthopedics. While the surgeon’s skill remains critically important, rehabilitation is a major factor in the patient’s eventual return to mobility. Orthopedics companies have developed significant innovation in their post-op engagement with patients by measuring and showing gate, mobility and activity to support the rehabilitation process. The newest generation of smart implants is likely to offer even more opportunities for patient engagement.

One of the most interesting areas of potential for patient engagement with medical technology is cardiology. This was the topic of a panel I hosted at AdvaMed with Julie Brewer of Medtronic and Mike Pederson of Abbott. While the discussion started in the traditional marketing means of engaging a patient—websites and advocacy—our true opportunity as an industry lies in engaging patients with our technology. Most cardiac conditions are chronic and progressive, and most treatments involve managing the condition and arresting deterioration. Tremendous resources are spent by our healthcare system on these patients, and outcomes are inconsistent and suboptimal. Patients with serious cardiac conditions are generally managed by multiple stakeholders in the healthcare system. Herein lies the true opportunity for medtech to engage the patient.

Our challenges as an industry are clear—we don’t have a heritage of patient-centric communication. Our solutions are built for surgeons, and our language often skews clinical and surgical, meaning it often sounds scary. Diagnostic reports printed out for patients can span 50 pages of unintelligible data without any interpretation. We don’t necessarily have user experience-based design aimed at helping patients understand and manage their conditions.

However, the mandate for medtech is clear—we need to get better. When we do, we have a meaningful opportunity for lasting engagement with patients that begins before and continues after surgery. Through medical technology—wearables, implantables, diagnostics and monitoring, and thoughtful presentation of insights derived from them—many opportunities exist to help patients better manage their condition. Medtech interventions too often have been second- or third-line solutions of last resort, based on our industry focus on the specialist. What is clear is that, through thoughtful patient engagement that extends outside of specific interventions, the opportunity exists for medtech to move to the front of the line.

Many thanks to Julie and Mike for their thoughtful discussion about their exciting vision of the future.