By Omri Shor
The pandemic has changed how we live and work, but in some ways for the better. According to a recent report from Accenture, more patients are turning to digital health tools and apps to help manage their health as a result of the pandemic. Since fewer people are attending doctor appointments, and many gyms remain closed, individuals are finding a greater ease of use and insightful support on managing their health through the use of digital tools.
As the patient community becomes more digitally-savvy, drug companies and physicians are lending their support behind this move by promoting medication monitoring platforms and health apps that enable patients to stay updated on their unique health conditions. And this trend of patients using digital tools to take an active role shows no signs of stopping, with a projected $106B in profit for the industry over the next five years.
Health at Hand
Patients are finding that their smartphone now controls a world of health information, and there are numerous integrations that can help them stay engaged and updated. Known as digital companions, these app platforms help to provide personalized guidance on medication management, nutrition, fitness, and even stress management. Using a format that is already familiar to users, digital companions incorporate specific information about the user and their daily activities, and issues prompts and reminders to help users stay on track.
For those who utilize a digital companion for medication management, patients can receive daily or multiple reminders to help with medication adherence and resolve questions on contraindications or dosing. Over time, the platform analyzes information to identify trends and provides users recommendations to further enhance their lifestyle – whether its managing a chronic condition, working toward a fitness goal, or trying to consume more vegetables. This information is also a boon for drug companies and healthcare organizations as it gets a larger view into patients’ lives. As users interact more with digital health platforms, it learns and advances to meet individual preferences and becomes more of a holistic advocate to assist with condition education, personalized support to overcome barriers, and engagement in updates and advancement in new therapies.
Beyond the point of service
Digital health tools can serve as support for drug management, but its recent advances help to move these tools well beyond reminders. For many patients with specialty medications or those that require prior authorizations, a digital companion can help track the approval process of medications and provide real-time visibility into the delivery status. Much like tracking a FedEx shipment, but contained within the same system patients are using to track their doses and upload their latest fitness activities.
Beyond just medication tracking, these latest tools can also connect users with support for financial issues, enabling them to connect with drug manufacturers for medication assistance programs, or even discount medication partners like GoodRx. This advanced connectivity means a digital companion becomes more than a tool – it’s a community for support. Many platforms can connect users with others in virtual support channels to help with treating a chronic or serious condition, or gain support from others toward a health goal.
Using AI Along the Journey
For many years, pharmacists were tasked with helping patients manage their medications and deliver support and guidance to patrons in their health journey. Except that these interactions were largely transactional, happening only when a patient purchased a medication. This brief exchange saw a pharmacist explain how to take the medication, when to take it, and answer any questions. In reality, many of those questions happen when a patient is at home, and ready to take medication or has been taking it for some time and has concerns. This is the space where digital companions are becoming essential.
Digital companions are more closely integrated into patients’ lives than the transactional pharmacy visit. Leveraging real world data on user activity, digital companion programs personalize support and guidance to deliver appropriate interactions when and where it’s needed. For example, at Medisafe we deliver video tutorials on how to take medication, provide progress updates for titration schedules, and can invite family and clinicians to perform timely interventions if a patient begins to struggle with medication therapy.
All of this is delivered using advanced AI technology that is unique to each user, in formats that are tailored to support that person’s needs. And since users are inputting their activities and doses throughout the day, a digital companion uses this data to continue to optimize the journey ahead for the best outcomes. Today’s digital tools are like having a pharmacist in your pocket, traveling with you, and available to you at all times.
Digital health could upend traditional RX
Prior to the expansion of telehealth, pharmacists were touted as the new provider to help expand healthcare access and address the provider shortage that led to an average 21 day wait for patients. Luckily, digital health has served as an acceptable solution in improving access and reach for patients and providers. And while the pandemic created a surge in telehealth uses, it is also drawing more patients to take an active role in their health with digital tools.
Digital companions have put pharmacists into the palm of patients’ hands, helping to resolve issues from medication monitoring to online pharmacy ordering to clinician check-ups. And with drug companies and health organizations recognizing the power of AI tools and its data outputs, they are providing more directly to users right when they need it. This helps to ensure greater medication adherence and lower total claims costs. Patients no longer head to the pharmacist (or the physician in many cases) when questions arise, instead turning directly to their smartphone.
It’s the digital age and the time is now to support patient tools to meet those questions in digital formats. Medication support and health guidance is no longer limited to the paper bag a prescription arrives in, but now resides in a user’s phone – accessible at any time. It may be just a few years before digital health replaces the traditional pharmacy format, making a complete medical experience digital, on-demand, and driven by the patient journey.
Omri Shor is CEO of Medisafe.