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Wearables - the technologist’s view

Patient insight is key to a successful solution

Ashfield Healthcare Glynn GodwinThe wearable technology market has come of age, with the emergence of wearables into the consumer mainstream. Products like Apple Watch and Fitbit have set the stage for an acceptance of products that are more focused around specific health outcomes.

Pharmaceutical companies seeking to support patients 'beyond the pill' are excited by this opportunity. The wearables market is projected to be worth $25bn by 2019 - so adopting the most effective approach to product development will be critical for maximising returns. Companies must also consider the effect of the wearable technology on the patient and whether it might meet the definition of a regulated medical device.

If more than a decade's experience in developing digital patient engagement for pharmaceutical companies has taught us anything, it's that bringing patients into the development process is a fundamental part of a successful project.

Engage early
Whatever the product, whether it's a device for blood analysis or an app to promote healthy living, it's important to engage with potential users as early as possible in the development process, to understand who they are, their environment, their routine, habits and drivers. These are foundational insights which technologists neglect at their peril.

Ultimately, if we create experiences which users feel involve too much effort or don't perceive to have a clear, sustained value, those users will disengage with the technology - reducing the likelihood of positive outcomes for the user's health and as a result, for the provider.

Pharmaceutical companies contemplating a move into the wearables development arena must find ways to make technology solve real problems for users while fitting seamlessly into their lives.

Insight in action
Several members of the Ashfield digital and creative teams recently acted as mentors at a 'hackathon' weekend, where designers and engineers from a variety of backgrounds came together to take on the challenge of improving quality of life for patients with COPD. Many of the solutions devised during this intense collaboration process centred on wearables.

Bringing patients into the development process is a fundamental part of a successful project

What became apparent on the day was that some teams often struggled to remember the end-user. As talented creatives and technical experts, they were keen to dive straight into solving the technical problems as they perceived them: build it smaller, enable it to capture more data, integrate different devices and products. However, the more successful teams took an empathetic approach to consider the patient, their needs and their condition.

A great example was the 'Koala' - an unobtrusive symptom-tracking pendant that would enable patients with COPD and their carers to monitor data and prevent exacerbations, at very low cost. Worn around the neck and giving patients a 'hug' of reassurance (hence the name) the team envisaged that Koala might give patients better control of their disease and save millions of pounds on hospital visits.

The really compelling part of the solution was the consideration of the ways the patient would use the pendant. The Koala could give feedback on respiratory rate, cough patterns, heart rate and stress levels, with no need for patient input, thereby minimising the barriers to use and maximising potential outcomes.

The successful development of wearable technology relies on a symbiotic relationship between the user/patient and the pharmaceutical company. Ensuring that the end-user gains a clear advantage from engaging with the technology is paramount. People will only engage with products which bring a benefit to them.

Wear the future
Behavioural change - getting people to alter their daily lives to accommodate a new device - is a tough challenge. Even Apple has faced an uphill struggle to reach critical mass in the smart-watch market, with 32% citing the major barrier to ownership being that they simply prefer not to wear a watch. Pharmaceutical companies viewing wearables as a way forward can benefit from the hard work done by pioneers in the consumer sector.

There are other pitfalls too. Developers' focus seems to be more towards helping healthy people get healthier, and less towards people who could gain the most benefit from wearable technology - those who suffer chronic or debilitating conditions. For this group, more consideration must be given at the outset of the development process to both lifestyle needs and the constraints than would be the norm with a consumer product. Making assumptions, in place of a proven user-experience methodology, is a recipe for disaster.

As Google makes its first move into the healthcare sector and Qualcomm Life describe their shift from fitness to connected health as 'going from the children's table to the grown-up table', one thing is certain: the wearable revolution is upon us. If pharmaceutical companies can truly embrace partnership with technology and communication organisations, and most importantly with patients, then the opportunities for improved healthcare outcomes are significant.

Glynn Godwin is VP, interactive and design at Ashfield Healthcare Communications

5th April 2016

From: Marketing



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