Medical Technology

Medtech, don’t dismiss the patient’s role in driving commercial success

By Sudhanshu Bhatnagar, and Natalie Fahey

Jan. 7, 2021 | Article | 8-minute read

Medtech, don’t dismiss the patient’s role in driving commercial success

Recently, an unbranded disease awareness ad during an NBA game made our ZS team’s group text light up. It was an ad for a medical device company, encouraging patients or caregivers to seek doctors’ advice about a complex heart disease. Any attempt by medtech to appeal to patients and recognize their role in making decisions about their health, either direct (as in this case) or indirect, has been very rare.


Now don’t get us wrong. Medtech companies, for ages, have brought therapies, diagnostics and innovations to market that have helped numerous patients lead healthier lives. And we’re not necessarily suggesting that medtech companies run more TV ads. However, when it comes to leveraging the power of the patient to drive commercial success, medtech is way behind.


The patient has emerged as the new MVP in healthcare as an outcome of several trends: CMS shared decision guidelines explicitly requiring patient voice in treatment procedure decisions such as LAA closure and TAVR; hospitals are focusing more on patient experience; and outcomes for value-based models and consumer tech and data to support patient needs have exploded. Furthermore, patient empowerment grew, likely permanently, during the pandemic, when patients took on a heightened role in deciding when and for what to seek medical care. The pandemic has further shone light on a gaping hole in most medtech commercial models that have a unidirectional focus on doctors and hospital administrators through sales channels: their lack of ability to either engage with patients or enable their customers to better engage with patients to bring missing patients back into sites of care. Medtech marketing teams likely are not oblivious to these trends. So, despite the writing on the wall, why is medtech so behind?


To find out, ZS asked 42 senior medtech marketers about patient engagement and found two broken links that have slowed the industry’s progress:

  1. Dismissing the potential value: Forty-five percent of senior marketers surveyed suggested their products were too far removed from patient decision making to require patient engagement and 50% said that engaging with patients is significantly more expensive than engaging with providers.
  2. Not knowing where to start: In the subset of medtech companies that realize the value of patient engagement, few know where to begin. Eighty-six percent of marketers don’t have a formalized vision for patient engagement in their business and 88% don’t have a fully resourced, centralized function to support patient engagement. 

Where you start in building your patient engagement capability differs depending on where you fall across these two broken links. Let’s focus on the group that doesn’t yet believe in the value of engaging with patients. (Our next posts will focus on how companies can build capability to increase patient engagement.)


For many marketers surveyed, if their product or therapy area did not seem to have a patient-driven brand choice element, they assumed that patient engagement would not drive value for their business. Their gut reaction was to simply equate patient engagement with expensive direct-to-patient campaigns with low ROI and overlook other potential direct or indirect avenues to engage patients.


Overcoming these biases is the first step to improving your ability to engage with patients and add value to your business. Both indirect and direct ways of engaging with patients can yield significant value.

The patient engagement value framework below helped medtech marketers in our study consider a wider array of value drivers and overcome biases.

Optimizing the patient funnel was by far the biggest value driver, with 70% of our respondents seeing value in that area. With therapies in complex disease areas where treatment guidelines are still evolving, and advances in medical management continuing to emerge, it’s not a surprise that on many occasions, patients don’t know all the treatment or additional therapy options available to them. By having more patient-centric strategies – either though HCP channels or direct channels – medtech can give patients access and let them be considered for such therapies. 


For instance, Edwards Lifesciences has shown that going “direct-to-patient” can start small and grow, all while driving meaningful business impact. With the creation of a robust patient website, Edwards has increased patient disease awareness to reduce the number of patients who don’t get rated with a valve replacement. Beyond explaining the urgency around treating aortic stenosis, the website lets patients find their nearest TAVR hospital with recommendations on doctors they can reach out to for treatment. Edwards has since expanded their direct-to-patient efforts to additional channels, showing that direct-to-patient outlets that require modest and manageable investments, such as a website, often serve as a great foundation from which to prove value and build larger capabilities.


Sixty percent of the medtech marketers in our study saw value in using patient engagement to boost patient outcomes for their product. This is critical to drive two things. One is to drive better acceptance of therapies, and potentially build paths towards better reimbursement. Second, for businesses with reliance on repeat orders of consumables, ensuring the right engagement with a device could be critical. 


Zimmer Biomet’s recent partnership with Apple Watch exemplifies how patient engagement can be used to boost long-term device outcomes. With their MyMobility app, Zimmer Biomet leverages patient engagement post-procedure to guide patients through recovery protocols, with a clinical trial to measure whether use of the app reduces readmission rates at 30 days after total hip or total knee replacement.


Finally, the value framework shows how medtech can leverage the voice of the customer (VoC) in product design. VoC is often limited to looking at the patient perspective from the vantage point of clinical users. While this might not be applicable to manufacturers whose products don’t have any patient-facing interaction, realizing that every product goes into creating a treatment experience will help unearth additional opportunities.


Hologic, a manufacturer of mammogram imaging equipment, has shown how engaging with patients can help shape product design in the early phases of product development. By working directly with patients, Hologic found that the primary reason women avoid mammograms (despite doctor recommendations) is due to pain during the scan. Using these findings, Hologic designed the SmartCurve Breast Stabilization System, a system with newly designed curved panels, rather than the traditional flat imaging panels. Through SmartCurve, studies showed a significant reduction in patient pain, from an average of 6.6/10 with their legacy product to 3.4/10 with their new system.

Patient perspectives can unlock tangible business returns across a variety of medtech device and therapy areas. To those in medtech who haven’t yet broached these new waters of patient engagement, here are two “no-regret” moves to recognize areas that might bring value to your business:


1. Overcome existing biases and invest in understanding the patient journey, the barriers along the journey and the patient’s role and influence across each stage. 

  • Develop a strategic approach to patient insights generation by combining market research with data driven insights to clarify the barriers holding patients back at different points in their journey
  • Define a holistic data strategy to guide integration of all patient touchpoints and create a longitudinal patient journey view, identifying opportunities to improve patient acceptance of therapy through valued communication
2. Prioritize which patient engagement areas will drive the most benefit for your business, ensuring a clear vision of how patient engagement should shape actions and ROI.
  • Establish clarity around business priorities and objectives to evaluate patient engagement efforts with alignment on expectations for driving maximal impact
  • Establish benchmarks to align organizational strategy or capability prioritization in order to enable a direct link from engagement efforts to business key performance indicators

Once you’ve accomplished these steps, you’ll be in a better position to assess patient-centric capabilities in your competitive or analog set to determine how your organization can engage patients, and understand the relationship between your current patient engagement objectives and maturity and the key capabilities tagged for investment to help prioritize capabilities that offer both near-term opportunities and enable continued growth. More on this in our next post.


Once these steps have been accomplished, you can determine how to build and invest in your patient-centric capabilities. Due to the diverse nature of medtech applications, not all incremental sources of value will apply to everyone, and the ways to most effectively engage patients will differ. And while not top of mind today, patient engagement value areas that are underappreciated today could become the next frontier of differentiation.


With patients more empowered in decision making, effectively engaging them has never been more pressing. The patient should be a central pillar in any medtech marketing plan. By taking the first step and reframing your perspective on patient engagement, your business can begin the journey to unlocking new growth opportunities.


For more, check out ZS’s webinar on how medtech companies can build more effective patient engagement capabilities.

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