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Meeting healthcare’s rising challenges

The journey to discover novel therapies through digital innovation and ensure scientific advances achieve their potential

Snowy mountain

It’s a ‘to do’ list of the ages: an overwhelming set of challenges to treat increasingly ageing populations that have multiple co-morbidities while, at the same time, healthcare systems are struggling under extreme financial and organisational pressures.

High-level demands mean traditional approaches are no longer as effective, as the global number of people over 60 is expected to double to 22% over the next 25 years, by which time 80% of older people will be living in low- and middle-income countries.

As the pharma industry strives to discover novel cures and therapies, these high-level healthcare demands represent an avalanche that is threatening to bury healthcare systems – and a huge proportion of the rescue mission is falling on digital innovation.

It is already playing a significant role in diagnostics, remote patient monitoring, supercharging electronic records, predictive analysis and enabling people to play a greater role in their health.

Digital tools are also exerting an increasing influence on drug development, clinical trials, accessibility and adherence, while industry and patient groups are forging stronger connections – and understanding – through apps and AI.

The full spectrum of pharma is keyed into its potential and the World Health Organization has collaborated with partners to create Florence, a 24/7 virtual healthcare assistant whose guidance is available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish, Hindi and more.

An impressive achievement, but this is just base camp in the journey to conquer global issues of poor health, inequality in access to treatment, affordability and ensuring that scientific advances in novel therapies achieve their potential.

The true value of digital
Ashfield MedComms, which is part of the Inizio Group, creates medical communications to inform, educate and motivate by making the alchemy of science, data and creativity matter. It identifies with embracing the power of data and analytics as a key component in both industry growth and improved patient outcomes.

Agustin Ramirez, Global Strategy Director at Ashfield MedComms, welcomes industry’s commitment to innovation but believes that the true value of digital will only be liberated by a radical route rather than a gradual climb.

“The industry is innovating and that is great, but the challenge is that often the focus of the innovation is not on the right place and they are not thinking: ‘Which problem needs to be solved?’ Rather, many innovations are conceived as an added value to current therapies or services,” he said.

“In my view, most disruptive innovation is coming from non-pharma companies and we need to embrace more of those partnerships because we have to transform healthcare. Some pharma companies are making progress, and I believe digital innovation could be a second growth engine for them. We need a cultural shift to really push things along. We need fresh thinking to evolve from incremental health improvements to exponential health outcomes.”

A new way of thinking
“Healthcare professionals are being asked to do more by many different stakeholders – from governments and payers to patients – and technology can enable them to meet these challenges.”

The current healthcare delivery model is burdened by high costs, regulatory complexity and heavy administrative processes that swallow up vital healthcare professionals’ (HCPs) time and this is where, Ramirez believes, a new way of thinking is needed.

He added: “Overall, the model focuses on sick care, rather than preventative healthcare, and this hinders early and continuous patient engagement with their own health and prevents better health outcomes.

“Greater adoption of digital health technologies and use of health data can improve patient outcomes by transforming how healthcare models operate.

“Both technology and data will improve access to the best quality of care wherever and whenever the patient needs it with remote care via virtual consultations, at-home tests and new interfaces such as voice to detect vocal biomarkers of conditions,” said Ramirez. “It will also help HCPs make better decisions and help shift their focus from what they could do to what they should do.

“AI and machine learning have a huge potential to augment their ability to make an impact through predictive analysis because, in the current model, patients are managed when they see their physicians when, in reality, health happens in between their appointments.

“By using data, we can join up the dots and get a continuity of care and hopefully promote more preventative care and self-care – that is where the real gains are; that is where the real excitement and hope is.

“It can enable a better era of healthcare and help HCPs achieve more because, right now, they’re under pressure, they don’t have enough time, they’re exhausted and don’t see an end.

“But with digital tools and data, we can change that.”

Digital uptake is on the rise
The promise is appealing, with a McKinsey report forecasting that healthcare innovations – from digital tools to gene and cell therapy – could reduce the total burden of disease in the world by 6-10%.

Industry is also awash with predictions that AI, machine learning, cloud computing and the Internet of Things will identify patients more clearly, model treatment pathways, empower adherence, reduce hospital and clinic contact time and also streamline and harmonise R&D processes.

Meditech Media, a Nucleus Global agency that is also part of the Inizio Group, is a full service medical communications agency that specialises in digital, strategic planning and support for clients across all aspects of the product life cycle.

“Digital health and healthcare innovation are big priorities for a lot of the companies that we’re working with and the uptake of digital technologies will only grow,” said Megan Allen, Scientific Director at Meditech Media.

“In keeping with this trend, a number of our clients now have digital health arms that have parity with other cross-functional groups whereas, previously, digital was the focus of a one-off manuscript or project that was not well integrated into the overall medical cross-functional teams
or strategies.

“We are in the tech age and mobile health, which was hugely accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is enabling us to make great progress in personalised medicine, which is the ultimate goal and the future of all healthcare.

“Digital tools will help us get there. They have the unique ability to monitor a particular patient’s health and/or disease journey in the home, providing a unique data set enabling HCPs to provide better care, which will ultimately lead to improved outcomes over time.

“In the clinical development space, the incorporation of digital outcome measures – assessed by apps or mobile devices – as clinical trial endpoints represent a real revolution in investigational medicines, because you’re really evaluating what’s important to patients and how investigational treatments affect patients in their natural environment.”

Unlocking the full benefits of digital
This is critical in industry’s push to provide novel therapies and cures for intractable rare diseases. A report in the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases, published in June 2022, concluded that the pandemic had, by necessity, proved digital’s worth, stating: ‘If there are any silver linings, one might be the rapid demonstration that remote and decentralised technologies can be introduced, adapted and tailored to the care and research environment to help those living and working with rare disease.’

Allen underscored that potential, particularly in giving a voice to diverse patient groups, and observed: “The impact on rare disease communities will be profound due to the low patient numbers and the inherent burden that come with participating in clinical trials. For many people, frequent travel to a clinical trial site or to see a doctor at a centre of excellence is a challenge. The idea that individuals could be evaluated at home with fewer in-person visits is a major step forward in terms of health equality.

“It is also a cost-saver for pharmaceutical companies as optimised endpoints and high- volume, high-quality data may allow them to enrol fewer patients or potentially shorten the length of trials.”

But, as many experts predict, the full benefits will only be unlocked when digital’s technical capabilities are matched by high-grade security and privacy controls.

“Privacy can be a challenge because we are talking about a large amount of sensitive data in electronic health records,” added Allen. “But the benefits of creating seamless care pathways, from HCP to patients, are immense.

“People are already familiar with digital technology playing a role in their health journey, thanks to calorie and step trackers, as well as watches that monitor heart rates, etc. These types of devices are laying the groundwork to help us move towards personalised, preventative healthcare. When people see the convenience and benefits of integrating digital technology into their health journey, they will be keen to be part of it.

“I hesitate to predict the next big thing because the next big thing is often paradigm-shifting, but I am very excited about digital health and the innovative tools that are under investigation, and the technology that will be incorporated into daily life over the next five years.”

Danny Buckland is a journalist specialising in the healthcare industry

23rd January 2023

Danny Buckland is a journalist specialising in the healthcare industry

23rd January 2023

From: Marketing

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