With the US healthcare system under strain like never before, Rajesh Midha, President at Ogilvy Experience and Bottle Rocket, examines how healthcare providers can look towards digital experiences as a way to increase patient engagement, drive down medical non-adherence and improve overall patient outcomes.
Across the US, medical non-adherence – when patients fail to take prescribed medication – is a growing problem. According to Pharmacy Times, it accounts for 50 percent of all treatment failures, approximately 125,000 deaths per year and up to one quarter of all hospitalizations. The financial cost is staggering, with $300 billion each year dedicated to direct and indirect costs. These costs have continued to grow as we’ve seen an increase in hospital admissions during COVID, putting more strain on a healthcare system already under immense pressure.
The reasons for medical non-adherence are wide ranging. They include patients simply forgetting to take prescriptions, versus more serious reasons such as mistrust towards health professionals and a lack of understanding about what specific medications do. However, by identifying different ways to combat these factors, providers have a critical opportunity to boost adherence numbers patient outcomes overall.
Here are some recommendations which healthcare providers can take onboard to improve patient engagement and decrease medical non-adherence.
The Rise of Digital Front Doors
In the past year, the coronavirus and its associated restrictions have seen people leaving their houses less frequently. This has led to putting off or deprioritizing healthcare needs. To combat unnecessary healthcare issues, and to shift the focus from sick to proactive care, providers and health systems must find new ways to build connections with patients and their families. The importance of digital connection points and communications are of paramount importance to ensure better patient outcomes. Personalized communications can, and will, increase medical adherence.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to build new communication channels with patients is via mobile. Mobile apps – typically called digital front doors in healthcare – are accessible, and easy to use for different types of patients. These apps allow patients to message health professionals directly when questions or concerns arise and can be enabled with pop up notifications to remind patients to take medication, according to dosage instructions, or order new prescriptions.
A 2019 review of these technologies and the link with medical adherence concluded that mobile apps “prevent forgetting about medication and incorrect administration and, thus, contribute to patient safety”. It makes the recommendation that in the future, these apps should include “personalization of the personal conditions and posology of the medication the patient takes.” This ultimately would make the experience easier for patients and adds a layer of care only offered through a mobile app.
From Communication to Education
On average, patients over the age of 65 take four different prescriptions per day. Even taking one pill can be difficult to remember, let alone four, which often must be taken at different times of the day and with food. Add in the fact that older generations are not as tech savvy as digital natives and you can see why non-adherence is soaring, especially in the pandemic era.
One way to counter this is through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered virtual assistants. These assistants, which can be used to interpret human speech and respond to questions in an automated voice, should be used in conjunction with, rather than a replacement for mobile apps. With over 60 million Americans owning a smart speaker (equivalent to 24 percent of the population), virtual assistants – which can be used on smart speakers, as well as mobile devices – can create deeper and more robust customer data profiles.
Voice assistants not only provide value and data to health professionals in real-time, they’re also being used by patients to remind them to take (and refill) their medication. Large organizations like Amazon are partnering with smaller, regional pharmacies to offer medication management services, which will set reminders and order refills through a patient’s smart speaker. It’s collaborations like this that can potentially reduce medical non-adherence, especially among older generations.
A Booming Industry
The US telehealth industry grew on average 14.6 percent per year between 2016 and 2021. This is expected to continue, with the industry currently valued at approximately $3.5 billion. With behavior shifting during the pandemic, there’s an argument to suggest that these trends are now our new normal and that patients may continue to be more hesitant than before to visit their doctors, or even go to a pharmacy to collect their regular medication.
As we’ve seen, this is where simple innovations such as voice assistants and mobile apps come into play. They address the soaring rates of medical non-adherence, protect the health of patients virtually, and ensure providers’ resources are leveraged efficiently. With an incredibly challenging year behind us, this is the time to address key learnings to make sure our health sector comes away stronger.