The New Patient-Consumer
Current trends in healthcare are accelerating the drive to adapt medical technologies to nontraditional settings and adopt consumer technologies for traditional medical applications. Aging population demographics, downward pressure on costs and an emerging receptiveness from consumers to new healthcare paradigms are all contributing to push a convergence of traditional medical and consumer technologies. A shift in focus to active prevention, along with the increasing need to address a rising burden of long-term chronic illness, is dictating the need for a revolution in point-of-care. Expensive hospitals and ER’s are out. Outpatient clinics, pharmacies, and home care are in.
Patients are increasingly being encouraged to actively participate in their own continuum of care. This encouragement is coming directly from their physicians and family, or out of necessity to avoid skyrocketing costs not covered by already pricy private insurance or Medicare. This participation is creating a market for low-cost, consumer-driven devices and services that can be offered within the clinic, in the field by healthcare professionals or self-administered by patients in the home setting.
Consumer technology is enabling entirely new medical use cases with the proliferation of smart phones, cellular data networks, wi-fi access, and Bluetooth-enabled devices. These technologies have opened up more consumer-centric interfaces, opportunities for patient-physician interactions, and new consumer-driven healthcare experiences as well as ways to do real-time monitoring, compliance tracking, efficacy surveillance, and physiological data collection.
Making Change and Embracing New Opportunities
Applying a particular technology that has been developed and matured to address a specific ailment simply falls short in the emerging paradigm. Successful new products will be systemic, requiring the collaboration of a much broader range of functional expertise and the integration of technologies not typically seen in a traditional narrow device development effort. Product platforms that include diagnostic, therapeutic, and monitoring benefits in combination are needed. Products and services may also require consumer grade ease-of-use, new sensors, full telemetry, data logging, cloud computing, security encryption, wide distribution, field training/servicing, or real-time surveillance. All of these aspects need to be considered while keeping in mind that, at the center of these solutions is the patient, and the intended health benefit that is to be addressed. These types of services can be daunting to implement to ensure user adoption, provide the expected clinical outcomes, and meet regulatory standards. However, the opportunities far outweigh the challenges if approached correctly and comprehensively.
Creating a Cohesive Team to Meet the New Challenge
The competencies, expertise, and capabilities to develop and deploy such products are typically not found within one company. New partnering, licensing, acquisitions, and organic growth strategies need to be developed in order to be successful. As market opportunities and products mature, the overall strategy and the network of partners and portfolio of innovation assets will need to be continually refined to sustain results. Companies should seek to form consortiums, acquire or license core technologies, leverage innovation partners, and find new ways to access their customers and patients directly. Completely new points of care, distribution channels and innovative system solutions will evolve driven by the healthcare consumer and their wellness needs.
The biggest challenge is that the needs of the new healthcare consumer require comprehensive products, which have to be informed by a broad range of domain expertise and adapted depending on geographic deployment. Dealing with the early ambiguities and underlying complexity of potential products is the first step. Representatives from R&D, healthcare practitioners, information systems, clinical research, and distribution must work together to identify the right combination of technologies and use cases to address patients’ needs. Then, strategically choosing which aspects will be closely held (core competency), which long-term aspects will be from trusted partners or licensed (other’s competency), and which aspects will be provided on an as-needed basis from innovation providers (execution partner’s competency) will be key. New skills in collaboration, orchestration, and information coordination will be required as these contributors progress and converge on a compelling offering.
Future best-in-class healthcare will include much more than the traditional in-person interaction with one’s physician in a clinical setting. As this shift progresses and the convergence of traditional medical and consumer technology accelerates, new, transformational ways of delivering care will emerge. Successful companies will adopt new business models and strategically partner to innovate, create compelling products and services, and deploy these solutions to customer-driven markets. Those companies who meet the current healthcare challenge will not only grow and prosper greatly in comparison to their peers but will also improve the continuum of care for patients and caregivers of the future.