Over the past year, health has become the focal point in our lives in a way that few of us could have predicted, nor ignored.
Just like consumer culture transformed our societies two centuries ago, health and health-related issues now shape our identity, our lifestyle, our perspectives and our aspirations for the future. To understand the implications of such a profound transformation, it is worth revisiting how consumerism came to be so prevalent in our society and how it influenced what we eventually came to call ‘design and innovation’.
Technically speaking, consumerism encouraged us to consistently improve and enhance our lifestyles through the acquisition of new goods. As consumer societies flourished, our urge to have and do better increased the value of innovation and creativity – in their attempt to set themselves apart from the competition, companies aspired to understand dynamic consumer behaviours and invested in the design and development of the most attractive products or services. In that context, appealing to our desires and aspirations – what things looked like, smelt like, felt like, sounded like or tasted like – became ever more important, and ultimately shaped our understanding and expectation of consumer products, services and experiences.
In healthcare innovation however, things were fundamentally different. Rather than sensorial appeal, innovation developed through science advances and an urgency to address immediate needs. It thrived on effectiveness, accuracy and reliability, all in the context of a highly-regulated environment.
Today, the divide between consumer and healthcare products is becoming less clear, and more challenging. With access to information online, modern-day patients are no longer just the recipients of medical therapy, but the drivers of it, with clear demands and expectations about the treatment they need and the care they receive. To respond to that shift, healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers are increasingly looking to develop products and services that not only improve someone’s health but offer a compelling, engaging experience for all.
But how can organisations that have, until now, focused solely on science and regulation embrace this new opportunity? And what, if anything, can they learn from those who embarked on a similar journey over two centuries ago?
Understanding the healthcare consumer
At PDD, our teams are constantly exploring the similarities and crucial differences between consumer and healthcare innovation. With solid expertise in both sectors, over the years we have uncovered countless opportunities to cross-pollinate and create better solutions.
In our experience, when addressing the needs of the healthcare consumer, a good place to start is to include the intended user in the process of developing the medical device or service, right from the beginning. By reflecting the values and desires of the users, products and services can be tailored to the patient, increasing their willingness to use them over a period of time. Increasing the ‘desire to use’ also increases an individual’s adherence to certain devices or systems, leading to better patient engagement in therapy, higher quality of care and better chances of treatment success.
What’s more, our research shows that when patients directly engage with their own health, they also tend to focus on preventive means to improve their conditions, eventually reducing healthcare costs and the time it takes to recover. For example, patients with a cardiovascular condition may voluntarily buy and engage with a ‘step-counting’ device to increase their daily activity, or adopt other lifestyle changes- such as healthy eating- in order to improve their condition.
A consumer-led approach in the medical device sector not only benefits the intended user but acts as a catalyst for medical device innovation. When there were fewer options available, individuals were inclined to accept what they were given. Now, with increased competition, manufacturers need to pay attention to the user experience and aspects such as comfort, aesthetics and portability in order to differentiate themselves.
Active early interaction and collaboration between users and medical device manufacturers at the beginning of the development process leads to better quality, functionality, usability, design and effectiveness. It also helps to identify pain-points, reducing the risk of costly later-stage development changes and driving the overall success of the device as patients are more willing to comply with the treatment. This is especially important of self-administering devices, such as infusion pumps or dialysis machines for at-home use.
But engaging with the active healthcare consumer also present us with some challenges. Technology advances mean that people are now used to instant solutions. The currency of convenience within our culture also means that patients are less willing to make lifestyle changes to suit a new medical treatment, and expect instead for the treatment to suit their lifestyle choices. They may be willing to adapt to an extent but the majority can now research alternatives to their prescription and find a more flexible alternative that fits better into their daily life. In this context, aligning new treatments and devices with the user expectations around convenience is, therefore, crucial. And never more so than now.
Home is where your health is
Last year, our desire for convenience took an unexpected turn with the pandemic, and the mandatory move to use our homes to work, exercise, educate, and as the place for all our day-to-day activities.
Healthcare systems also saw a surge in demand for home-based medical treatments instead of patients receiving all their care in hospital. For example, cancer patients may now opt to receive therapy in the comfort of their home through ambulatory infusion pumps worn over twenty-four-hour periods rather than having to go through multiple hospital visits.
At-home care means that patients can reduce the number of people they come into contact with, alleviating the load on hospitals by reducing the number of in-patients. It also means that patients can spend less time in hospital settings, and alleviate the impact that multiple hospital visits might have on their everyday life and mental wellbeing. Another prominent driver for at-home care is the aging population as we see an increase in chronic illnesses such as incontinence and diabetes.
Enabled by advances in medical technology, treatment and care go hand in hand and makes it possible for patients to receive treatment outside of a clinical environment with the required level of control. Predictive analytics allow for the identification of patients that could most likely benefit from such home-care schemes. With precision monitoring and connected devices, patients are also empowered not to rely so heavily on healthcare professionals being physically present.
While there is a drive for more at-home treatment, it is also worth noting that there are some patients who still want to have full contact with a doctor and to be treated in a clinical environment. In the same way that other consumer-led industries tailor their products and services to people’s needs and desires, healthcare providers and medical device manufacturers should be adaptable and adjust their approach when designing new products or services too – there is no ‘one size fits all’. In that context, listening to the targeted users of new devices, adapting to their evolving needs, and considering a choice of therapies or systems that might suit their aspirations is essential to succeed.
Ultimately, using consumer knowledge and understanding user behaviours during the design process of medical devices and systems adds enormous value for all stakeholders. Having such knowledge at the forefront of the process improves later adherence and empowers individuals leading to a more successful result.
With technological advances, healthcare professionals can ensure appropriate use, driving adherence remotely and opening up opportunities for a collaborative approach and win-win situations when it comes to the patients’ health and wellbeing.
If there is anything we learnt last year, it is how quickly our values and priorities can shift. With this in mind, medical device manufacturers and healthcare provides must continue to adapt to the needs of patients.
This is inarguably the direction the medical industry is heading. Healthcare innovators must consistently gain feedback and insight directly from their target audience and avoid holding onto assumptions. Only then we can stay ahead of patient attitudes that continue to evolve – as they inevitably will.
Posted by Emma Dickinson
Consultant, Research Recruitment
The last thing that inspired me: the visionary people around me, at work and in my personal life, inspire me the most.
My dream project: To visit as many different places and experience as many different cultures as I can in my lifetime.
My obsession: Any kind of exercise where I feel challenged.