Fast-moving medtech accelerating pivot towards patient engagement

by | 14 Sep 2021

Pharma got a head start on working with patients, but some medical technology companies could catch up quickly if they have the right tools, templates and examples of success 

The medical technology sector is large, diverse and populated with smaller players. While medicines makers tend to be large multinationals, often focused on several disease areas, the medtech industry is teeming with niche companies — along with a handful of big corporations.

Its size and diversity, coupled with the sector’s short innovation lifecycle, help to explain why pharma companies have been quicker than their medtech counterparts in embracing patient engagement. Big medicines companies devoted time and resources to incorporating patient perspectives in drug development, while also working with patient advocates to enhance adherence to medication and run disease awareness initiatives.

This is new territory for some medtech firms, but the speed and agility required by their rapid, iterative approach to innovation could help motivated companies move more quickly than their pharma peers in the early days of the shift to patient engagement. In fact, latecomers could skip several steps in the journey to normalising patient involvement, potentially leapfrogging laggards who started early but have moved slowly. 

‘We are seeing growing enthusiasm across multiple areas of the company to increase patient engagement throughout the total product lifecycle,’ says Barry Liden, Vice President of Patient Engagement at Edwards Lifesciences. ‘Asking patients about their journeys, their experience and their perspectives early in the innovation lifecycle helps to ensure we’re meeting their needs.’

As Liden’s job title suggests, Edwards — a global company primarily focused on technologies for heart valve disease — has been an early mover in patient engagement, appointing a dedicated team to lead the charge. However, there is still some way to go before the instinct to incorporate patient perspectives is a reflex across the industry. 

DeAnna DuBose, Director of Patient Engagement at Edwards, sees opportunities for medtech to catch up fast. ‘We are trying to weave patient engagement into business as usual,’ she says. ‘We can look at what pharma has done and potentially move faster. Some of the barriers to working with patients have been taken down, allowing medtech to move at a quicker pace.’

DuBose says the pharma sector began working more closely with patients several years ago, but the initial focus tended to be on the period after products were approved. ‘Disease awareness and medication adherence came first, before incorporating patient perspectives in the earlier stages of drug development,’ she says. ‘To make the biggest impact, medtech is beginning with the product development phase and moving forward from there.’

Wanted: success stories 

To catalyse the widespread adoption of patient engagement in medtech, sector-specific guidance and tools are needed to help decision-makers see the benefits in a relatable context. ‘The number one barrier is public examples of success,’ says Liden. ‘The industry needs to generate and share examples of patient engagement that can be easily applied to a number of different types of companies — of various sizes and areas of activity.’ 

As the concept of working with patients becomes better known, business leaders are asking for concrete case studies of patient engagement in action; they want to know the steps required to make it happen. ‘We are working with PFMD and partners to try to address this by developing the templates and tools needed to make patient engagement work,’ Liden says. 

He says healthcare companies, working in a fast-moving and regulated environment, can find it overwhelming when faced with the prospect of engaging with communities of patients. And, while some tools built for medicines companies can be used by medical technology companies, others must be adapted. ‘What works in the drug industry will not always transfer seamlessly to medtech; it’s important that the guidance and tools available feel like they were made to be used in our sector.’ 

Filling this gap will help Edwards continue to expand its patient engagement work, but also serves the wider industry. DuBose acknowledges that not all medtech companies, particularly smaller ones, have a dedicated patient engagement team. ‘It is important to show companies a path to follow,’ she says. ‘We want to help them see that there are tools tailored to their needs.’ 

Developing medtech-specific tools could increase the adoption of patient engagement and ensure high standards prevail across the industry. This protects the reputation of the sector as a whole and, crucially, safeguards patient organisations as they embark on new relationships with devices and diagnostics companies.

‘Patients are why we are here,’ Liden says. ‘We have always engaged patients in one form or another, and are expanding our efforts. Along the way, we want to ensure that high-quality patient interactions are the norm. In the end, this benefits everyone.’

Do not forget to join us at the Patient Engagement Open Forum for the session “From Vision to Reality: Patient Engagement in the Medtech Sector,” at 14:30-16:00 (CET) on October 7, 2021. Register now!

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