Let’s face it: Medtech has been very successful over the years by taking care of physician customers and all but ignoring the consumer (aka the patient). Physicians have historically been the primary driver of the product decision, so who could have blamed them? As a former vice president of marketing for a large medtech company once told me: “We don’t want to alienate our surgeons by doing all of this patient marketing. For complex, life-and-death medical decisions, the physician is the expert and the patients follow their lead. Marketing to patients just frustrates our surgeons because they have to re-educate their patients who develop misperceptions.”
This seems like a reasonable argument for steering clear of patients, not to mention the fact that direct-to-consumer advertising is so expensive. But over time, the industry has shifted its singular focus away from the physician a bit as the purchase decision-making process has evolved to include other stakeholders, such as administrators and supply chain roles. By and large, however, the industry has still ignored the consumer as an important decision maker.
Now the patient is getting more involved, and doctors are taking notice. Consider my friend Mark: He knew that I’ve consulted with medical device clients for many years, so he rightly or wrongly considered me somewhat of an expert, or at least someone he trusts who has his interest at heart and knows a little something about medical devices. Mark was battling several health issues and was in the hospital for a heart condition when he called me. His doctor had diagnosed a problem and suggested that he consider the implantation of a vena cava filter. In his hospital bed, Mark did an internet search and couldn’t help but see all of the news about the complications and the lawyers who were all over it, and he wanted to know if this procedure was safe and worth doing.
He trusted his doctor’s recommendation but wanted more information, and he was struggling to get what he needed through his online searches. He also wanted to know what set the different companies’ devices apart and asked for my thoughts on which one he should get if he were to move forward with the procedure. Mark’s surgeon was, in fact, more than happy to engage with him on the brand decision, and even told him that if he had a preference for a specific company, he would implant one or the other. Mark asked me how the devices worked and about the technology. He actually got excited about this new knowledge of his, and he was eager to share it.
Patients have been getting more involved in their healthcare decisions for some time now, but the growth in high-deductible health plans and the increasing pervasiveness of health information are accelerating the trend. I did my best to educate Mark on his options, but I’m sure that I missed some important details. Wouldn’t it have been better if Mark had the resources and tools from the medical device industry to help him through his experience before and after his procedure? How many other people are like my friend Mark? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that with each passing day, a new generation that’s often skeptical of big companies is more willing to believe the internet over their doctors.
Digital health is in the process of transforming every major aspect of a patient’s healthcare experience, from the point at which she isn’t yet a patient and is in self-diagnosis mode, to how she finds and interacts with healthcare providers, to the treatment experience itself, to the ongoing follow-up and management. Every aspect is changing, and a common thread through all of it is empowerment.
Digital and connected health solutions are helping to increase consumer involvement. Wearables have raised consumers’ awareness that their lifestyle choices have an impact on their fitness and well-being. Medical diagnostic tools that capture data for a patient to share with his doctor, and the analytics that connect them, are making patients smarter about their condition and getting them engaged in treatment choices. Personal health and wellness apps are making it easier for people to keep track of their health information. Apple has even announced that it’s democratizing the electronic medical record and will be providing a platform to make it easy for patients to maintain their own health data. Diagnostic sensors provide an opportunity to develop a relationship with consumers upstream before they’re candidates for your expensive implant.
There are other technologies that are making it easier to communicate. Portals, new care coordination platforms and telemedicine solutions encourage an ongoing dialogue between patients and their doctors. Digital health solutions provide a unique opportunity to connect more with consumers and build a trusted brand. Many patients would happily brag about having that top-of-the-line knee implant, or tell the cool story about how technology from your company saved their life (with help from the surgeon, of course).
New technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality give marketers a flexible canvas to help shape the experience, educate consumers and provide support resources while building and enhancing the value of their brand. A team at GSK used virtual reality to bring to life the experience of a migraine sufferer so that those of us who are fortunate enough not to have experienced a migraine (potentially, including migraine sufferers’ own HCPs) can have a better understanding of—and therefore more empathy for—what it feels like, and it has been a great success. Digital tools can help you stay connected with the patient, reinforce your brand and make them an advocate for life.