A typical patient journey, as we know it, starts with symptoms and ends with diagnosis and medication. Research suggests that 77% of patients use search prior to scheduling an appointment, especially for symptoms and treatment options. Thus, with digital penetrating every facet of our life, it is soon expected to completely transform the patient journey. This is good news for patient-centric healthcare organizations with an aim to improve the experience of individuals. It also opens up a box of possibilities for technology companies. It could even boil down to a tussle between leading pharmaceutical companies and technology giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google, to decide who gets the bigger stake in this transformation. The winner could be the one who leverages their industry knowledge the best and fastest.
News that made headlines last year put Amazon at the forefront. It collaborated with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to provide technology solutions for U.S employees. The company also announced the ‘Amazon Comprehend Medical’, a medical language processing tool that uses machine learning. This tool combined with Alexa, the voice assistant, can provide answers to patients in a jiffy and also book appointments or analyze symptoms for the user. Pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, have understood that technology is as important as R&D now. This has led to the emergence of CXO positions in the field of technology, digital and information, in companies like Pfizer, Merck, and Novartis.
The three key implications of the digital wave on patient journey, which can have a profound impact on how we think of health have been described below –
Medical Assistant Chatbots- While apprehension around the use of AI in matters of health is still strong, companies have been relentlessly trying to bring down the error in such models. One such successful example is Buoy, a medical assistant chatbot. Backed by Harvard Innovation Labs and Harvard Medical School, Buoy holds immense potential. It asks you questions to understand your concern and tries to identify what is wrong. The chatbot then chalks out the next steps for you to follow, and guides you to the right care. A version of the bot is targeted for employers. It is designed to eliminate the uniformity of health plans that employers offer and instead customize the benefit as per the employee requirements.
Virtual Clinical Trials- With virtual clinical trials, patients can participate in clinical studies from anywhere, irrespective of their location. This is groundbreaking, as it can help with the formation of new therapies. It is different from telemedicine, as the researchers are connected with the patients at every stage of the trial and not just patient care. Science37 is the leading company in this area and they have developed a platform called NORA (Network Oriented Research Assistant) which uses mobile and telemedicine to achieve clinical trials and end-to-end management. The company has collaborated with a number of other organizations, with a mission of patient centricity in all their research endeavors.
Post-diagnosis Support- Some ailments require support groups, especially chronic diseases like diabetes, HIV, Parkinson’s etc. MyHealthTeams is an organization working in this field, they build social network for such patients. Pharmaceutical companies can use this information to their advantage. Analytics on the resulting data can reveal finer nuances of drug use by the patients, which can be fed to the R&D team for action.
We have talked about three key trends impacting the patient journey at different stages. While innovation in this field has just started pouring in, the bigger implication that we can expect in the near future is the personalization of an individual’s health plan. It would be interesting to note how digital health impacts life expectancy, and patient experience over the coming years.