As medical technology companies become more patient-centred, industry leaders seek to enter the patient engagement fast lane. There is still some distance to travel.

The medical technology sector is highly diverse, populated by thousands of companies, large and small. Like the pharmaceutical industry, it tackles a wide range of disease areas. However, its range of products is broad, encompassing everything from implantable devices and surgical tools to diagnostic tests and health apps. 

Many patients use a combination of these technologies to manage their care; others have minimal interaction with products (think of cardiac pacemakers which are usually handled only by implanting cardiologists).

However, this is changing with the arrival of connected devices and digital health products. Even pacemakers and glucose monitors can send data to physicians, and some come with patient-friendly apps. Add wearables and self-care products into the mix and it should be no surprise that medtech is looking to up its game.

Playing catch-up 

‘The trend in healthcare is strongly towards empowering patients and caregivers and engaging them,’ says Virginie Delage, European Patient Marketing & Market Research Manager, Cardiac Rhythm Management at Medtronic. ‘It’s still early days for us in cardiovascular, for example.’

Medtech insiders are conscious that they are behind their pharma counterparts when it comes to building patient engagement into their work. However, as an industry that prides itself of being nimble, some see opportunities to catch up fast.

‘When we look at what pharma companies are doing, we know we are behind,’ Virginie says. ‘But there is a growing trend to create patient-facing roles that simply did not exist a couple of years ago. And at Medtronic we are conscious that our leaders count patient engagement among the company’s priorities.’

Her own role includes working to ensure patients have the information they need about technologies designed to improve their lives or keep them healthy. ‘We want to provide the best possible experience for patients, whether that’s through information on our websites and apps, or call centres to help with remote monitoring options on connected devices for example. We obviously need to take into consideration the local regulatory and legal framework and, in many countries, it is not possible to communicate directly to patients about products,’ she explains.

To go further, companies are thinking about how they can bring the patient voice into the innovation loop, whether that’s helping to set priorities or co-designing trials and supporting recruitment. ‘Real patient engagement takes a more holistic approach by involving patients from the R&D stages to clinical development and then in post-approval activities,’ says Virginie.

Tools and leadership

Having completed the PFMD Patient Engagement Training, Virginie says the core principles are common to pharma and medtech. ‘I thought it was really interesting and, even if it was originally designed with medicines in mind, it’s completely transferable to medical technologies,’ she says. ‘Some of the language and specifics can be adapted to suit medtech, but it is good to leverage what exists so that we can move quickly.’

Virginie is involved in reviewing some of PFMD’s Patient Engagement Management suite tools to make them better suited to the specificities of medtech companies. She says the support of trade associations, such as MedTech Europe, would add further weight to training tools such as guidance on engagement with expert patients for example.

A key factor in accelerating uptake of patient engagement across the medtech sector will be the stance of CEOs and other company leaders. ‘When our CEO talks about the patient voice and giving patients the best experience possible, it really helps,’ says Virginie. ‘In addition, we need to see more Chief Patient Officers appointed in companies, with more resources and people dedicated to patient roles.’

The direction of travel seems clear. The only question for the medtech sector is how quickly it wants to reach the destination.