An aging population suffering from ever-more complex chronic conditions and concerns about health funding catching up, let alone keeping pace. If that’s the gloomy global state of healthcare in short-form, then many are pinning their hopes on home care – buoyed by the promise of remote patient monitoring – to provide the remedy. There’s no doubt that a significant sea change could have huge benefits for patients, professionals and the whole healthcare system. But where potential sits, pitfalls await… and the time to address them is now.
The future of patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring technology is still in its infancy when it comes to both development and implementation. But from where I look, marketers and R&D teams only have a small window of opportunity to understand the possible stumbling blocks and overcome them in their strategic planning, design and development.
There is certainly promising evidence that allowing patients to stay in their homes while being cared for remotely improves overall wellbeing and offers significant cost benefits. A recent US study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, for example, compared home care to hospital care. It concluded that home care patients were more physically active and slept better. Overall, a slight improvement in patient experience was recorded.
Confronting the usability challenge
One consequence of a shift to home care is that patients and lay caregivers are likely to become the primary users of monitoring technology. This makes potential pitfalls associated with usability a prime area of focus. The importance of usability, at least from a Human Factors perspective of safety and efficacy, is already well recognized in medical technology development. But the changing landscape of patient monitoring will present a whole host of novel challenges.
Technology will be able to deliver a greater variety of monitoring capabilities. Yet patient demographics covering vision, dexterity, the ability to learn new information, attitudes towards their health, levels of technical literacy and so on, vary widely within end-user populations. The requirement for patients to take more responsibility for their own health could clash with increasingly complex technology demanding a steeper initial learning curve.
The move towards remote care will see monitoring being carried out in a variety of environments, either in the home or on the move. This means that a myriad of challenging conditions and factors, including lighting, temperature, humidity levels, noise and other distractions, will need to be considered. There are plenty more complexities – such as the need to charge devices or maintain an internet connection – not commonly troubling existing patient-used medical devices. All will need to be dealt with effectively if a product is to be successful and data is to be valid and reliable.
Remote monitoring technology is also likely to produce more complex patient information. The aggregation of multiple sources of data for healthcare professionals, patients and even caregivers promises more insight into chronic and complex patient conditions. But it could also increase the likelihood of the user misreading or misinterpreting more complicated data.
User-centered design is vital
Understanding social acceptability and the stigma associated with body-worn or home-based monitoring equipment could have a make-or-break impact on the success of a product. Take the Abbott Freestyle Libre™ glucose monitor. Much of its success is down to how small and discreet it is. As well as being quicker to use than traditional finger-pricking methods, it is also popular because it can be worn discreetly under clothing.
In my view, a user-centered design approach is vital. And I would ask whether the methods traditionally used need to be revised. Fundamentally, we still need to ensure safety and efficacy through rigorous Human Factors testing, but surely now is the time to delve into usability much more deeply. Opportunities abound for those willing to address non-risk-based usability and consumer insights above and beyond the levels usually considered by UX designers and market researchers.
I expect innovative technology to help by facilitating quick and easy collection of longitudinal, real-world usability data to give us deep insight, rather than just snapshots in time. This can then be used to refine products for real competitive advantage. More opportunity will flow from integrating consumer medical devices into the wider system. Products with less ‘medical’ associations reduce social stigma and can reduce the need for active data input by the user. Tactio™, for example, syncs with devices such as the FitBit™ and Wahoo Fitness™ monitors.
If they are considered right at the start of product development, interfaces that are familiar to consumers can be adopted. The Amazon Alexa™ natural language interface, for example, now has HIPAA-compliant skills.
Advice on meeting the challenge
The utilization of algorithms will help to reduce both the data interpretation time for the end user and the complexity burden on healthcare professionals. The integration of data from different sources into a single platform will help shorten the learning curve and the need for healthcare professionals to have multiple log-ins to multiple platforms.
The development of different outputs and views depending on the end user and their needs will also be beneficial. An example of this is the LATTITUDE™ home monitoring system by Boston Scientific. It provides users with basic information about their device and its status through the MyLATTITUDE Patient App™ but provides healthcare professionals with more detailed information on the patient’s cardiac rhythm via the LATTITUDE Communicator™.
It is crucial to make sure that the type and quantity of information is appropriate for the needs of the end user, which vary depending on whether data is intended for the patient or healthcare professional. For example, the Sentinel Healthcare™ blood pressure management platform collects and analyzes patients’ blood pressure data, but reduces clinical burden by only referring more complex cases back to healthcare professionals for further treatment.
The potential for remote patient monitoring is vast but challenging. You can explore the subject in more detail by reading our whitepaper on the future of patient monitoring. In it, we broaden the debate on the implications for global healthcare and talk directly about ways for strategic marketers and R&D teams to keep their products competitive for the next decade and beyond.