Achieving patient centricity in a digital health world

Views & Analysis
Card image cap

Patient centricity is always a hot topic in pharma, as shown by last year’s Frontiers Health event in Berlin, when a session dedicated to the theme once again had standing room only.

This is easy to understand because, although it involves multiple actors along the care journey, the patient really is at the centre of health management, care, communication and education.

The panel session, Patient-Centricity and Digital Innovation, was moderated by Denise Silber, CEO of Doctors 2.0 Event Consultancy, and explored the natural connection between patient-centricity and digital health.

To do this it looked at the experiences of empowered patients, pharma companies who involve patients in the ideation process for projects and start-ups that solve specific healthcare problems. It also explored our own commitment at Healthware to support conversations among all players and offer innovative tools that address real patient needs.

A patient story

When we first talked to Denise about the topics for her session at Frontiers Health, she asked each of us panellists to tell a story about being patients ourselves, before doing our presentations. This was no easy task.

The excitement of having the chance to share my ideas on how digital health innovation can have a role in patient centricity somehow faded away and was replaced by a sense of frustration when thinking of my own real-life experience.

There was no time to talk about it on stage in Berlin, but I would like to do so now, not only because it is connected to the topic of this article, but also because sometimes patients need to tell their stories.

“The excitement of sharing my ideas on how digital health can have a role in patient centricity was replaced by a sense of frustration when thinking of my own real-life experience”

Among my various healthcare experiences, I would have chosen the days I spent in hospital after giving birth to my son, and the following months spent at home, and my frustration with the breastfeeding difficulties I experienced.

After the birth I was physically and psychologically very weak and could not find the right support, both professionally and personally, that I felt I needed. Instead, I found myself alone, searching for the right resources to help me through this time.

The resources that helped me were online content and digital health solutions that were based on quantified-self ideas of data-tracking and analysis of the various steps of my journey. By encompassing remote support from a health coach and a community of people that were facing the same experience, I gained practical and emotional support. Together they provided a valuable sense of continuous self-empowerment.

I was often at home and alone, and if I didn’t have these support tools to augment my experience as a patient, I would probably have quit breastfeeding. The system around me was less than inclusive and patient-centric, so I had to ‘activate’ myself to take control of my own patient journey.

This example is a ‘light’ one and not related to a chronic or serious disease, but it’s a useful illustration of the main dynamics that can occur in a health journey. It also shows how digital health solutions and technologies can support patients, bringing positive outcomes not only from a personal standpoint, but also for a wider community of people as experiences are shared.

How to successfully activate patient-centricity

In my role as head of experience, my team and I design patient experiences for the various phases of people’s healthcare journeys every day. The combination of the three disciplines of art, content and user experience come together in what we call ‘experience’, with the aim of designing work that is deeply people-centric and improves health outcomes.

Activating patient centricity for us means mobilising people to create a sense of activation, one that makes them the owner of their own health. For me, it’s this activation that really is the key to improving outcomes.

Within this, digital health can play a central role in supporting patients in their journey towards being more empowered. If healthcare systems are managing chronic disease patients, and in doing so focus on treating just their symptoms and only seeing them at annual visits, what happens during the remaining 364 days?

This gap in their day-to-day lives becomes an opportunity for patients to start their empowerment journey, as well as a chance for innovators to step up and develop the technology tools needed to help them accomplish this.

I recently spoke to a number of patients affected by a chronic degenerative disease and observed different scenarios of how patients manage their daily living with that disease. Some react to it, trying to carry on as normal by cultivating their interests and dreams, almost pretending the disease didn’t exist or serenely accepting it. Others were totally defeated by the disease and decided to retire from the outside world.

But all the stories had something in common. And that was the positive response to suggestions of how digital technologies could improve their disease management, from both a personalisation angle and a lifestyle management one.

The prospect of improvements in quality of life, relationships, health outcomes and personalisation of disease management was received very well, almost like magic. Digital technologies really have a ‘kind of magic’, after all.

So where to start? In the complex system that is healthcare today, we need change that allows people to integrate every aspect of their healthcare.

Patient-centricity in action

At Healthware we have created a method called ‘need-driven’ innovation, that has the objective of solving real problems based on a deep understanding of patients’ unmet needs.

Collaborative and agile methods are applied to our support for each phase of the patient journey, from a proof-of-concept solution onwards to ensure they are profoundly integrated with the patient journey and will really help patients transition to the next phase.

15 Minutes of Fury provides a practical example of need-driven innovation, applied to the awareness phase of the patient journey.

It’s a short movie on mental health problems through the perspective of UK football influencers, who have found sudden fame via social media platforms, and looks at the negative emotional impact that over-exposure has caused in their lives.

Launched in the UK in support of #WorldMentalHealthDay last October, the film aimed to reach a demographic of grassroots football supporters in the UK, which tends to be young to middle-aged men and is a population that’s traditionally underserved by mental healthcare.

To tackle this need, we assembled a collaborative taskforce of experts supported by digital data analysis who worked together to design a product that would have a real emotional connection with the target group.

The result was a short ‘entertainment-style’ film, complete with a 60-second trailer, that was produced with the active involvement of social media influencers in UK football to help destigmatise conversations about issues such as depression, anxiety and anger management. The objective was to offer a transformational experience to the target audience through channel affinity and emotional content expertise.

It’s a great practical example of a project that is really patient-centric and that offered an innovative transformational experience based on real needs. The effectiveness of this awareness initiative has been confirmed by the exciting social engagement results in the first 10 days of release (200,000 organic views, an average watch time of 6:38 minutes or 39% of the whole film, and 1,500 comments).

Examples like this really show how digital technologies can have the power to transform healthcare.

About the author

Elena Head of Experience at HealthwareElena Pirofalo is head of experience at Healthware International, curating the creation of transformational experiences for the healthcare industry. Since the beginning of her career in 2001, Elena has partnered with various stakeholders, such as patients, healthcare professionals and life-science companies, to create impact for modern marketing activities. Today she is also hands on with digital health startup go-to-market and the design of digital therapeutic solutions.

An active player in the health innovation ecosystem, Elena has been supporting the Chairman and Steering Committee with the content curation of Frontiers Health since 2015. She has a passion for nutrition, mental health and fitness, from a health and wellness perspective, with a focus on the quantified self, smart data and their actionability.

With a degree in foreign literatures with an extensive focus on women’s studies, Elena keeps on cultivating her readings by female writers and participates in communities of women in business and tech.


Elena Pirofalo

17 March, 2020