Medical Technology

How to bridge patient engagement capability gaps for medtech commercial success

Jan. 11, 2021 | Article | 8-minute read

How to bridge patient engagement capability gaps for medtech commercial success

Patients are now the real MVPs in reshaping how healthcare decisions are being made. This empowered role of patients is not just a trend for pharma or biotech brands, but for hospital systems and medtech, too. The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated limitations in medtech’s current patient engagement models: an overreliance on one or two patient communication channels and inadequate access to patient data to support real-time decision making.

Patients are delaying their healthcare treatments or falling out of care during the pandemic, and few medtech companies have made efforts to correct that. One exception is Johnson & Johnson’s “My Health Can’t Wait, a campaign and global resource hub reminding patients not to delay treatment or standard routine medical exams, which are key to important elective surgeries – and of importance to J&J’s business. In J&J’s own sponsored study, more than two-thirds (68%) of Americans said they or someone in their household delayed or canceled healthcare services due to the pandemic, and experts believe this could negatively impact patients’ health in the long term. So, despite these obvious signs that patient engagement can be a driver to commercial success, why is medtech so behind others in the healthcare industry?


ZS’s recent study of 42 senior medtech marketers found two broken links that have slowed the industry’s progress: dismissing the potential value and not knowing where to start. Where you start in building your patient engagement capability differs depending on where you fall across these two broken links. In our previous article, we discussed the group that doesn’t yet believe in the value of engaging with patients. Now, let’s focus on the second group that has realized the value of patient engagement but is unsure where to start in building and sustaining their capabilities.


When we benchmark medtech across the four key dimensions of ZS’s maturity model, below, we see significant room for up-scaling patient engagement capabilities. Most companies self-assess as only having basic or foundational patient engagement capabilities, even falling short of pharma, which has more readily focused development efforts here, but is still well short of best-in-class consumer organizations.

The barriers that were more commonly noted among the marketers surveyed were limited ownership or prioritization of patient marketing as compared to marketing for other healthcare stakeholders; limited resources (people, time, funds) to allocate towards patient engagement efforts; and difficulty identifying measurable KPIs to track patient engagement success. Less common were concerns regarding compliance or regulatory issues around collecting patient data, as well as limited knowledge on how to engage patients and effectively analyze patient data into actionable insights.


With such a diverse set of barriers, it’s often confusing for organizations to understand where to start in laying the right foundation among capabilities. There tends to be a high degree of uncertainty around which elements can enable further growth. Our research indicates three gaps that must be bridged to lay the right foundation for better patient engagement: 

  1. Lack of a formalized vision: Only 14% of industry leaders have a formalized, aligned strategy and buy-in for driving better engagement with patients, caregivers and community.
  2. No scalable structure: Only 12% of leaders have a fully resourced centralized function to support patient experience across the business unit.
  3. Democratizing patient insights: Just 24% of medtech marketers report patient insights are centrally distributed across the business, and only 21% say patient data analytics are performed in a regular manner.
Having a patient-specific focus within their structures, practices, data and analytics helps leading organizations address these gaps. Here are a few foundational pillars to follow their lead and bring near-term value and scalable growth to your business. 


Leadership commitment Cultural design Insight development

Establish leadership support and a mandate to focus on the patient, with an authentic vision, clear and actionable objectives and a supportive company culture.


Encourage the creation of care champions, committed to patient vision and purpose, to act as catalysts for change.

Cultural design is not just about embracing the vision and mandates. Create structures where business owners have accountability to ignite change across the value chain and organization.


This can start with establishing processes and consistently incorporating patient voice in go-to-market business models.

Develop a strategic approach to patient insights generation by combining market research with data driven insights, and establish protocols for engaging directly with patients to normalize the inclusion of their perspectives across the product development cycle.


Further support the democratization of insights, through identification of internal champions to act as connectors to share insights across project teams and functions.

With the understanding of business value and where to start building your patient engagement capabilities, it’s also worth taking the time to learn the relationship between your business’s current maturity and the key capabilities tagged for investment. This relationship can be helpful in setting the roadmap to efficiently scale. Include cross-functional stakeholders during your assessment and prioritization of patient engagement opportunity areas to drive consensus, alignment and buy-in.

These starting points can help you and your organization realize the value of patients in driving commercial success for the short term and achieving growth in the long term.
For more, check out ZS’s webinar on how medtech companies can build more effective patient engagement capabilities.

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