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The digital future world is one where we genuinely feel in control and central to our own healthcare. Where we’re engaged and those that interact with us are trusted to provide timely, appropriate and effective support.

I recently attended an event at the House of Lords, led by Kai Gait, senior global digital director for GSK. Among the many in attendance was Professor Brian D Smith, advisor and author on the evolution of medical technologies in the digital age.

A key discussion point was the lessons that can be learned from other markets, primarily from the consumer products world.  This was refreshing as we’ve seen for a number of years consumers quickly adopting digital services to transform traditional product experiences into service led, differentiated propositions. Think SONOS/Spotify wireless music-streaming in your house, Uber or AirBnB. Wherever clear benefits are to be had for the consumer, they vote with their feet. They adopt and quickly. But the value is no longer in the standalone product, it’s in the ecosystem that it connects to.

Healthcare is more complex than most consumer markets and doesn’t traditionally embrace fast change, with good reason. The sector is dealing with people’s health so in this environment the optimised consumer strategy of rapid Beta test and quick roll out of a minimum viable product, followed by rapid enhancements that allow users to benefit from the latest incremental service enhancements is not possible within the conventional industry framework. But this sort of tactic is somehow needed for a step change to more patient focused solutions.  

Consider the starting point, a patient who doesn’t want to be ill but they are faced with a conventional ‘one size fits all’ healthcare solution, which they must fit into their daily ritual. Add to that the typical trappings of a conventional digital solutions, downloading apps, creating user accounts and passwords, forms to fill in, standardised e-mails, functionality that is not quite what you want. This is a hard-enough sell with a captive audience of enthused techy followers looking for the latest trend to share with their friends on social media. Any patient will tell you they don’t have time to do any of this. However, let me share another insight, 1 billion. That is the number of hours people spend on YouTube per day. So actually we do have time. It’s just that we’re currently spending it doing things we find more interesting, more ‘us’. 

To add to the challenge, patients are already faced with a myriad of technology offerings from wellness apps through to virtual Doctors on Amazon Echo, that all offer well-intentioned advice and yet the vast majority are not approved or regulated. What do we trust? They are like any other consumer proposition; they offer convenience and expect the user to accept some minor errors along the way. Acceptable for takeaway pizza, less so for a heart-attack assessment. 

So how can digital healthcare break through? Engage with the patient.

Here at Cambridge Design Partnership we have a team who specialise in devising new products and services that are ‘ahead to the curve’ for brands around the world. Our approach always focuses on the user and first gains a deep insight into their needs and emotions, before we look at technology opportunities and regulatory, quality and wider business issues. 

We can foresee a legitimate roadmap of regular interactions with patients, in a way that they value. These would support and reward good behaviours and coach them positively, helping to explain the impact of their choices and actions. They would get to know them and build relationships through quick feedback, customisation and personalisation, making services more and more relevant to their needs.

We think the pharma industry could play a major role in this transformation because of the knowledge and expertise it has. But to achieve this may need a new approach, perhaps new commercial structures, partnerships and brands to encourage patients to embrace this future. 

If we look at other markets, we see the same issues; for example in banking and insurance. They’ve invested heavily in newer, friendlier brands and start-ups that take a more holistic view of the customer’s needs and find new ways to offer more value. Maybe healthcare can do the same. 

If you’d like to discuss how we can help address these challenges, do please get in touch at hello@cambridge-design.co.uk.

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