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Critical factors to fast-track digital health technology adoption

Digital health technologies, including mobile health (mhealth) and digital therapeutics (DTX), are developing at an increasing pace, providing the NHS with new opportunities to improve health and social care.

Both the NHS Long Term Plan and the Health Secretary’s Tech Vision look to harness these new technologies. As a result, a number of initiatives were launched in the first half of 2019 to facilitate the development and adoption of the most effective technologies.

NICE’s Evidence Standards Framework for Digital Health Technologies will ensure new technologies are clinically effective and offer economic value, while its HealthTech Connect will help identify and support new technologies for the UK health system to adopt.

From July, NHSX will bring together teams from the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement to speed up the digital transformation of the NHS and social care, giving people the technology they need to improve their health. Meanwhile, the DigitalHealth. London programme matches innovators with NHS need, supporting them in navigating the UK health environment.

Support is also available from the Academic Health Science Networks which, in partnership with the Association of British HealthTech Industries, has launched a ‘route map’ to help technology companies navigate the ‘innovation maze’ and become a commercial success.

While useful, these new initiatives and policies could give the impression that penetrating the NHS is a tick box exercise. However, there are a number of challenges to commercialising digital technologies, both for digital health companies and technology companies moving into healthcare, and for the pharmaceutical companies looking to collaborate with them.

Digital health and technology companies are trailblazers in this potentially revolutionary new segment: there are no precedents or best practices for these pioneers. They will need to navigate the regulatory systems while dealing with varying levels of understanding and readiness to adopt digital technologies. This is one area where partnership with pharmaceutical companies, who better understand working within the regulations, could be important.

So what will the critical factors be in meeting these challenges?

1. Differentiate DTX from the well-being market: There are 318,000 health-related apps available to date. But it is hard to separate those that merely pass the minimum technical requirements for download from an app store from those that are not only safe but also have proven therapeutic value. One key challenge will be to distinguish DTX from the mobile health and well-being market through providing the evidence needed to meet regulatory requirements.

2. Leverage the early adopters: finding the right approach to kick start early adoption among HCPs and patients in keeping with regulations for marketing and communications activities will be needed. There will also be legal and ethical questions about data collection and privacy to be answered: will digital health and technology companies become the patient’s ‘big brother’?

3. Demonstrate value for payers and decision-makers: it is also important to establish the additional benefits and cost-efficiency for digital health technologies over and above existing approaches. Decoding technical features and translating clinical messages into practical benefits that resonate with difficult-to-reach NHS decision-makers will be critical.

4. Engage relevant stakeholders: a healthcare communications agency can support companies in identifying and creating partnerships with relevant stakeholders, including patient and professional groups, the NHS or pharma to organise pilots, identify synergies and create opportunities with mutual benefit.

5. Simplify the message: translating the company’s business case into a compelling narrative with relevant and appropriate messages for all audiences will be necessary to communicate the ever-increasing complexity of digital health solutions to patients, HCPs and stakeholders to secure trust and buy-in. Many digital health technology companies are built around their innovations, so even though their original motivation will have been the patient they tend to focus their communications on technical developments. Their efforts will therefore need to shift towards the benefits of their technology to both patients and healthcare professionals using appropriate language, channels and reasons to believe.

Effective communications can ensure both a successful roll-out and future success for digital health technology innovations. By addressing these critical factors, a strategic communications plan can fast-track the adoption of digital health technologies by reaching and engaging patient and healthcare professional audiences with a convincing proposition leveraging the most effective channels. Incorporating corporate communications activities within the plan can also support digital health companies with fund raising via venture capitalists and other investors, as well as generate partnership opportunities with pharma, insurers and large employers.

Federico Marchisio is Digital Programme Director and Lorraine Walters is Associate Director at Say Communications

Article by
Federico Marchisio and Lorraine Walters

In association with

Say Communications

12th June 2019

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