Med tech and adherence: modern ways to tackle an age-old problem

Views & Analysis
modern ways to tackle an age-old problem

Medication adherence is a long-standing problem, but the dawning of the patient-centric age is opening up new ways to save lives and maximise returns.

That’s according to John Ragland, chief product officer at HealthPrize, which uses techniques such as gamification and loyalty marketing in its adherence programmes.

“In the US, poor medication compliance is the sixth leading cause of death. Around 50% of all the medicines that are prescribed are not taken.

“It’s a terrible tragedy, but it is something we can change for the better,” he said, adding it costs the global pharmaceutical industry $637bn a year in lost revenue opportunities.

“Companies have realised their future will be dictated by how much effort they put into keeping a patient on therapy, and that, frankly, it is in their own best interest.”

These are not new figures, but while pharma has been focused on interactions with healthcare professionals, the problem of adherence has fallen at the feet of clinicians. Now, things are starting to change.

“We are transitioning more towards outcomes-based pricing and performance payments, and it's causing everyone to think more carefully about patient.  Pharma has realised that the doctor can't do it all and it needs to step up to take more ownership of the adherence problem.

“Companies have realised their future will be dictated by how much effort they put into keeping a patient on therapy, and that, frankly, it is in their own best interest.”

Healthcare consumers

People living with an illness are no longer “patients”, they are “healthcare consumers”. With that shift in thinking comes the opportunity to use methods that would usually be connected with more commercial enterprises.

Consumers live cheek by jowl with their devices, meaning they are there to communicate and emphasise at the very moment individuals are coping with any number of the common barriers to taking their medication.

“There are major psychological and physical challenges we have to overcome to convince people to take their medicine. It might be that it is hard to consume, there may potentially be side effects, it might be inconvenient to take. Or it might be that every time we take it, it makes us feel old and sick,” explained John.

“That’s why programmes are becoming a lot more consumer-centric. We're using gamification, behavioural economics, loyalty marketing: all the mechanics in our toolkit to create experiences that will ultimately drive engagement and increase medication adherence.”

John’s company, HealthPrize Technologies, has just launched a new compliance platform product, called Drive, which employs tactics more familiar to social media and coffee shops than healthcare.

It offers points for engaging with different pieces of content and runs “sweepstakes” for people who log in a set number of times a week.

The idea, he said, is to make the experience with medication enjoyable and interesting on a day-in, day-out basis.

“Compare that to what you have now – a text reminder of the dreaded act of taking your medication: the medication that makes you feel old and sick and just reminds you that you're in a bad place.

“With these methods, we try and flip that on its head. Yes, we will remind you to come into the platform, but when you do, it will be fun or you will learn something. You will get something out of it.”

Ultimately, these methods use tried and tested concepts that consumers are already familiar with to build healthy habits and add value to taking medication as prescribed.

“A lot of people say poor adherence is down to cost or forgetfulness, but that’s not right. You don’t forget something that you value,” added John.

Management buy-in

John said innovative thinking around this issue has started to take hold, but there was still much more to do.

The biggest stumbling block can be a lack of commitment at senior management level. Setting up a relevant platform and creating a comprehensive programme of engaging and compliant content, that is also fresh and timely, can be expensive and time consuming.

“I think companies have realised they have to make that initial investment, but there's no such thing as ‘build it and they will come’.

“They need to build the programmes, but also allocate the resources needed to create something that consumers are actually going to enjoy using. That is something that they're not used to doing,” he said, highlighting slow internal review processes and a lack of consumer marketing experience.

But, he went on to say, securing that all important buy-in from senior management was simply a matter of demonstrating the potential return on investment (ROI).

“All patient support programmes are there for one purpose and that’s to boost adherence. But very few of them are directly measured in that way. We have to look at programme impact more carefully and be more focused on measuring, because it's an economic story at the end of the day.

“If you can go to your boss and show ROI through helping patients deal with their adherence issues, you're going to be much more supported at all levels.”

The time is now

People not taking their medication as prescribed is not a new problem, but it is one that has received more attention as the med tech industry has developed the tools to tackle it.

As patients become consumers, responsible for their own health behaviours, it makes sense to target them directly with methods they already know and understand.

And with the global pharma industry losing billions of pounds every year to poor adherence, it makes sense that it be the one to help them.

About the interviewee

John RaglandJohn Ragland is chief product officer for HealthPrize Technologies. He has nearly 30 years of experience in creating businesses within the online media and consumer packaged goods markets. He has founded or co-led numerous companies, including Contagion, an interactive marketing and development firm;, acquired by The Active Network; and Greenfield Healthy Foods, acquired by Campbell Soup Company. He is the co-founder of the Connecticut Challenge, a non-profit organization that funds programs to improve the quality of lives of cancer survivors.