Patient engagement in the digital age

Patient engagement in the digital age

According to a survey by PatientsLikeMe, a patient network and real-time research platform, social media-savvy adults with health conditions would be willing to share their health data online if it helps clinicians improve care, helps other patients or advances medical research.  According to the survey:

  • An overwhelming majority would be willing to share health data if it could help others in some way: 94% would be willing to share to help doctors improve care; 94% would be willing to help other patients like them; and 92% would be willing to share to help researchers learn more about their disease;
  • Four-out-of-five respondents (84%) would be willing to share their health information with drug companies to help them make safer products, and 78% would do so to let drug companies learn more about their disease; and
  • 94% believe that their health data should be used to improve the care of future patients who may have the same or similar condition.

The results of the survey surly will likely embolden the many companies in the diabetes technology arena who are developing systems which allow patients with diabetes to share their information with their healthcare team. As we have noted in the past the general theory is that the ability to share information simply will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes. That the patient will become more engaged with their diabetes management as they will have a team helping them process and analyze all this data.

Yet on the flip side, as we have also noted, no one is quite sure just who will pay for the analysis of the data. Will physicians have the ability to bill the patient for their time? Will insurers reimburse physicians for electronic patient engagements? And what about data security, as we have seen recently with several notable data breaches at major retailers, will a patient’s data by protected?

An even bigger question is how will the FDA regulate and monitor this area. Will they require mobile health apps to undergo the same rigorous, time consuming and expensive clinical trial process that a diabetes drug or device is subjected to? While the FDA has shown signs that they are ready to move into the digital age, this is also the same agency that can and has taken years to approve a simple glucose monitor. When it comes to change and the FDA, talk is one thing turning this talk into a workable policy is whole different story.

A largely unconsidered question is how the companies who are developing these systems will make money. Will they charge for their services or will they hope that electronic patient engagement will lead to greater sales of their drug or devices? Diabetic Investor suspects that as this space evolves we’ll see a variety of options just as the cellular phone arena evolved during its formative years. There are some who may recall that in the early days of cellular phone service consumers bought airtime, it was only later that options such as unlimited minutes became commonplace.

One thing that is virtually certain is that the convergence of diabetes management and mobile technology will continue. Even with the many unanswered questions surrounding this area mobile technology can and should play a valuable role in helping patients better manage their diabetes. The simple fact is a smartphone has become an essential part of the patient’s life.

Perhaps the only cautionary note here is that we’ve heard this story before and it did not have a happy ending. Back in the day when PC’s ruled the world and there were no such thing as laptops, smartphones or tablets people back in that day argued that the PC would become the ultimate patient engagement tool. That patient’s would embrace this technology as it was simple to use. It didn’t take long for glucose monitoring companies to develop systems which allowed the patient to transfer readings from their meter to a slick software package. As the internet and email became more popular these packages were upgraded to allow patients to easily share the information they had collected with their healthcare team. As with mobile technology today the general belief was that we’d ultimately see better patient outcomes.

As hard as this may to be believe, especially for those who see advanced technology as the answer to better patient outcomes, patient outcomes failed to show much improvement. This fact begs the question will mobile technology platforms perform any better than the old PC based systems? Diabetic Investor could argue that having such a system available on a smartphone does not necessarily make the process any easier for the patient. As we noted just the other day while collecting glucose data may be easier, however these data points by themselves do not provide a complete picture of a patient’s diabetes management. As sophisticated as some of these systems are they are not yet like the new crop of smart insulin pumps which track not just a patients glucose levels but also track carb intake and insulin delivery.

The litmus test for this coming onslaught of mobile based platforms will be will the majority of patients, not those who are already actively engaged with their diabetes, actually use these systems. Diabetic Investor suspects the other questions regarding whether physicians will be compensated for data analytics or how FDA will regulate these systems will be solved as it is very obvious that mobile technology and diabetes management are on a collision course. Once again it will come down to whether or not patients use these systems. We know it’s hard for many to believe but advanced technology by itself is not and never has been the answer to producing better patient outcomes. It’s all about patient engagement and the last time we looked patients are not computers which can be programed but real people.