Consumer empowerment and the digitalization of health are making patient engagement essential for medical technology companies, new and old
Healthcare is changing fast. Patients are empowered as never before: they have access to information about diagnostics and treatment and expect to have a say in their care. In some fields, the patient voice is helping to shape research agendas, design clinical studies, and even influence policy and pricing decisions.
Medtech is changing too. The proliferation of apps and wearables shifts more power to consumers and patients, with a greater focus on wellness and preventative health. Industry newcomers include high-tech startups and global tech firms – companies that have user engagement written into their DNA.
Established medtech firms are increasingly looking to patients to understand their needs and preferences, while the rise of connected devices means that even implantable technologies – such as pacemakers – are now used for monitoring. A wealth of data and feedback is quickly becoming available to patients about device performance.
All of this adds to the urgency around patient engagement for the medtech sector, which has been slower than their pharma industry peers to embrace patient input.
‘There has been less engagement in medtech compared to pharma, but the trend is for doing more,’ said Ken Ryder, Senior Director for Regulatory Affairs at Abiomed. ‘Some companies are further advanced than others, but we’re also seeing more discussion at the discussion the trade association level, like AdvaMed, on how to make the patient voice more prominent.’
By developing high-quality patient engagement tools that are easy to use, the industry can accelerate uptake while ensuring high standards across the sector. Trade associations can become advocates for patient engagement, showcasing the tools and guidance that companies need to get started.
‘We are working with groups like AdvaMed and MDIC, the Medical Device Innovation Consortium, who have developed key guidances on Patient Engagement in Clinical Trials and resources on how to conduct patient preference studies which provide a helpful benchmark,’ said Melissa Schooley, Senior Director for Health Policy and Government Affairs.
‘The medtech company ecosystem is much different from pharma,’ Ryder explains. ‘There are some major players in the industry, but many are start-ups or smaller companies with limited resources. There is often little budget or time for linking directly with patients, so it is important to make it easier for companies to respond to informed patients.’
For firms making devices primarily used by clinicians, patients have not been a priority because they rarely interact with their devices. Now, patients arrive at the physician’s office with clear preferences on which technology should be used.
‘Digital media allows patients to get information on different devices and this is shifting the paradigm,’ says Ryder. ‘Patients are not simply taking their doctor’s view as the last word on how they will be treated or which technologies will be used. We have to react to that.’
For Abiomed, the mantra has always been ‘Patients First’. The company offers patients opportunities to meet with the people who make life-saving products, such as tiny pumps for people with heart failure. ‘We host Heart Recovery Reunion events where patients have an opportunity to thank the people behind our technologies. Sometimes there are tears all around.’
While the company is not yet weaving patient preferences into product development, it is collecting data on quality of life and cost-effectiveness as part of some clinical studies. Ryder says this is ‘scratching the surface’ of what could be possible in future.
New ‘early feasibility studies’ available by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States could offer opportunities to work with patients in testing the design of new products. Real-world evidence from registries could also feed post-market data on devices into the next wave of product innovation. Again, patients could become part of the process.
‘We’re looking for small wins to show how the medtech sector can benefit from patient feedback,’ Ryder says. ‘This will help to get buy-in from the industry, motivating decision-makers to explore new opportunities for deeper engagement.’
Abiomed is working with PFMD and partners to adapt patient engagement tools to meet the needs and culture of medtech companies. ‘We see value for our company and for the industry in customizing these tools to show what’s possible in the devices space,’ he says. ‘We’re excited about the next steps.’
While there may be challenges ahead, Ryder says the industry is used to starting small but scaling up rapidly when clear value emerges. ‘Medtech typically takes small bites, adapting and iterating along the way. By redesigning the PFMD guides, we hope companies can find ways to tailor patient engagement processes to their needs,’ he says.
Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, decision-makers need to see that real results can be achieved even by beginning with a modest initial effort. After that, anything is possible.
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!