The "ConsumerMed" product category is expanding quickly, but few makers have figured out how to keep users faithful for the long term.
The line between consumer products and regulated medical devices is blurring, as a new category, "ConsumerMed" products, invades the market. Fitness trackers. Home blood pressure monitors. Oral care products. Sleep assist devices. They're all marching into this uncharted--and valuable--territory, estimated to reach $10.6 billion by 2017.
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Although some companies have succeeded in this area, many discover it's difficult to identify the necessary attributes for consumer acceptance. Why? They often push new technologies without fully understanding consumer behavior, needs, and desires. These products fail to connect with users, and companies are unable to encourage proper and continued use. Studies indicate that 33 percent of consumers stop using their fitness tracker in the first six months, and other ConsumerMed products face similar adoption and adherence challenges.
Pharmaceutical companies have long explored patient behavior and ways to improve medication adherence an issue plaguing the industry with nearly half of U.S. patients failing to take their medications properly, including some who stop taking their prescribed medication entirely. The magnitude of this issue has forced drug companies to dedicate significant time and effort to address this adherence challenge.
With the rapidly expanding ConsumerMed device category beginning to face similar adoption and adherence issues, there are four lessons that can be learned from the pharmaceutical industry:
1. People don't believe in the long-term benefit. Many patients stop using a medication because they don't understand the overall benefit or believe that it will work for their specific needs. Pharmaceutical companies have been addressing this issue through education and creating opportunities to facilitate ongoing communication between the patient and the healthcare community. Similarly, ConsumerMed manufacturers are in a position where they can educate users on the benefits of device adherence through a more informative or consultative sale of the product and continued education once the product is sold.
Another way to address this challenge: Help consumers visualize the possible long-term benefit of their treatments. ConsumerMed companies have the opportunity to open a window into a "future you." Financial service companies do this by providing a view of their customers' retirement years based on their current financial behavior and planning. They then offer a clear and concise visualization of how modifying certain behaviors today can affect their future financial state and lifestyle.
2. The psychological burden. One of the main causes of poor adherence is the challenge of patients remembering to take their medication. This isn't surprising. Changing consumer behavior, and encouraging new daily habits, can be extremely challenging.
ConsumerMed devices are well positioned to address these aggressive challenges. ConsumerMed devices should become so convenient and comfortable that they invisibly fit into our lives. In cases in which a device can't be worn or incorporated into products used daily, organizations should find other ways to fold them into our routines. They should be designed to resonate with consumers so that they're encouraged to display them in their homes, allowing them to act as a visual use reminder.
Technology can help. ConsumerMed devices have an advantage because these products often inherently contain electronic elements. If desired, reminders can come to consumers through their smartphones, email, or even text messages from family members.
3. The desire for immediate results. A significant motivator for pharmaceutical adherence is the gratification that patients receive when the medication demonstrates immediate effectiveness. However, patients often stop using a medication when they have an asymptomatic condition and don't experience any physiological or psychological benefits of taking the drug. Products should take this into consideration and make "small wins" visible to consumers. These can be as simple as a text message at the end of the day if you achieved your health objectives, or an awards/points system.
These companies also need to capitalize on opportunities to improve "sense making." Consumers now experience data overload as their health and wellness devices providing a flood of information--without the ability to evaluate the data in a meaningful way. For instance, a health dashboard could translate collected data into clear and useful consumer-facing information and suggestions for behavior modification. The Apple Watch has successfully addressed this through their Activity app. The app encourages activity through short-term goal setting and reminders and congratulates the user when he or she has reached daily goals.
An additional issue with this product category is that many ConsumerMed devices do not sufficiently leverage the opportunity to connect to a larger health and wellness ecosystem. These devices can monitor and provide feedback but, without being connected to a larger information sharing system, they work in isolation. There are opportunities to connect devices to healthcare professionals, family members, or an overall health plan. Similarly, as ConsumerMed devices become a daily part of people's lives, companies will be able to provide a more beneficial and significant longitudinal assessment of use.
4. Cost. Cost continues to be a significant barrier for pharmaceutical patient adherence. Millions of people can't afford the medications that are prescribed to them. The cost of ConsumerMed devices or consumables can be a significant barrier to initial adoption or long-term adherence. To improve affordability, ConsumerMed device companies should explore ideas such as new distribution or business models. For example, many people stop using a health-and-wellness product because once they discover their personal usage patterns, the device loses its utility. In fact, some contend that the point of all these products might be to increase our self-awareness and eventually wean us from them.
Companies might confront this issue by creating device rental options for consumers. People would be able to rent their ConsumerMed device at a lower cost than purchasing the unit, and then return the device once it has served its purpose. This might be a model that would work well for all the parties involved.
Kevin Young is senior vice president of product experience at Continuum, a global innovation design consultancy.
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