Be Empathetic, but Let’s Not Call It a Journey
Insights into improving patient adherence through digital technology
A recent Medical Futurist’s post on how digital health technology should focus on people and not coding, spurred me to reflect on the importance of empathy. It was a key aspect of a September 14th, 2017 Meetup in Berlin called “Innovating the Patient Journey –Improving Adherence”.
The idea was to engage experts in a discussion of how digital health solutions can best encourage patient compliance regarding medications or other treatments. The questions that shaped the evening were:
1) How does digital development affect your current situation?
2) What’s your vision of how becoming more digital can change adherence?
A panel of four reached valuable common ground while sharing unique angles on how to help people improve their lives through health technology. The panel represented an array of perspectives including digital health insurance, an AI-based chatbot bringing conversational digital health solutions, a healthcare startup with a software platform to improve adherence and outcomes, and a biotech and startup expert.
Their insights are worth sharing more widely. Here are some to consider:
Keep it human
Yvonne Gründler of Ottonova
As head of Product at Munich-based Ottonova, Germany’s first private digital health insurance provider, Gründler described the importance of reaching people where they are — via email or mobile phone. Ottonova aims to create a seamless experience for users, using their digital health app to help people faster. In the introductory video on their website, we see a modern platform to make insurance both personable and easier, through understandable language and questions around one’s lifestyle, choices, family etc. Gründler stressed the importance of human interaction as a model for digital interactions to follow. In response to the questions posed above, she wants to enable patients to stay healthy while move through life’s stages. She wants health insurance that effectively manages a group without applying a blanket solution for all.
Carol Wildhagen , CEO and cofounder of Ariana
“If you can connect to a patient, you can make a difference, but that doesn’t scale.”- Carol Wildhagen
So her solution is an AI-based, messenger chatbot that businesses use to reach their patients. Ariana can be tailored to be a personal health coach for the pharma and med tech industries.
Wildhagen wants a user to see a new message from Ariana and feel the same level of excitement/joy/connection we feel when we get a text from a friend or loved one via whatsapp. She wants you to be able to say, ‘yes I took my meds’, or ‘no, I did not eat prior to the surgery as instructed’.
She says Ariana builds on the primordial need for connection, reassurance, and empathy. Wildhagen truly wants to do well by doing good. She’s aiming to help us all out of our laziness to make good health decisions. She mesmerized the audience with her directness and enthusiasm saying if as a medical doctor she cannot clone herself to help more people, then Ariana will do the job.
In response to those questions above, Wildhagen says the healthcare system shouldn’t wait for people to get ill but rather keep people healthy. From birth onwards, we need to deliver motivation and education towards that goal. She is speaking September 20th on the nuances of conversational chatbots language. Go see her!
Break Down Messages and Language
Legge’s software enables pharma franchises to safeguard outcomes and insights. He recounted how he once simply cut up an informational brochure to break down the instructions into text message sized content reminding patients to take medication or follow pre-surgical instructions.
Legge believes we need to choose the right channel that is appropriate to reach a user, but he cautioned about language. He told a story of a doctor who himself became a cancer patient. With that new outlook, the doctor had a new reaction to the term “journey”, finding it frustrating and distasteful. This shift of role made the doctor even more empathetic to how patients react to words that are supposedly there to enhance connection. He encouraged everyone to show more empathy, and use AI to create more relevance and context.
Integrate and Connect Experiences
Christian Hein, building the Amgen Berlin Technology Hub since March 2017
From Hein’s expertise in European biotech and startups, and his current focus on supporting medication reminders and empowering physician discussion, his perspective touched on how digitalization should focus on integration. He said right now, communication needs integration: the GP doesn’t know what the hospital knows, but the patient knows a lot about their specific situation. How do we share insights better? He believes an integrated digital healthcare system needs to address adherence.
Hein also stressed the need to adapt solutions for a changing world. He suggested taking a cue from Netflix to somehow make digital health and adherence solutions more ‘addictive.’ Find the trigger, and figure out what we are not yet doing to help people make good decisions.
During the closing Q & A, the audience then asked the panel: so, how do you directly address adherence? To which Legge responded: we need to address forgetfulness and provide educational content, like how to properly use an inhaler. The best reminders come from trusted relatives.
This speaks to Wildhagen’s emphasis on behavior. She wants patients to get relevant information they need in a timely way, to ensure they are aware of what they need to know. For example, tailoring AI to get smarter and guess at clues for what a person’s age or habits might lead them to do. She thinks digital health can give people the boost they need to better adhere to treatments.
Hein spoke about hiring a data scientist to explore how aggregated data can be useful. He says pharma is just getting the hang of this. But in the end, the patient must own the data.
Data Privacy-yes, but Sharing is Caring
Speaking of data, that brings us to the last point. Data privacy is crucial everywhere. Here in Germany, it is an especially hot topic as the general cultural tendency is to be very guarded about sharing personal data.
Every panelist confirmed that data security is of utmost importance. In addition to that though, Gründler pointed out that the history of medical science is based on collecting data for the common good. Just look to the story of John Snow and the discovery of cholera.
Take-away messages from this discussion:
Don’t be afraid of aggregated, anonymized data; it can lead to the next amazing advances in medicine. Encourage this approach more widely.
Use digital solutions to connect to patients in a personable and understandable way, breaking down information and making it relevant.
Pay attention to word choice and fine tune it to meet your user’s needs.