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How can healthcare and life sciences organizations embrace strategies to engage patients across the value chain and the continuum of care? During DayOne's "Open Mic Next in Health Series," experts shared ideas on how to work together and use cutting-edge technologies to truly make patients co-creators of their health.

Moving from noble declarations to actions

It’s an ambition of healthcare providers, the pharma industry, and digital health startups to put patients at the center and engage them in co-designing new solutions and services.

Easy to say, but harder to execute in practice. Although patient-centricity has been discussed for years, the barriers to its deployment remain the same: organizational culture of working in silos, limitations related to data collection and processing, or distrust between patients and healthcare providers, life sciences companies, and policy-makers.

Large organizations are often stuck in logical fallacies with a tendency to assume they have at least the same knowledge as their patients. On top of that, healthcare is stuck in a paternalistic model with doctors in the center and the patients in their orbit.

Data: a missing enabler of patient empowerment

To start innovating across the continuum of care, it’s necessary to realize that we are still not using the best technologies to engage patients, according to Prof. Ronni Gamzu, Director of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center – Ichilov Hospital. Gamzu kicked off the event with an inspiring keynote: “We are doing healthcare in an old-fashioned way,” said Prof. Gamzu. We must reshape the culture in healthcare organizations by moving away from treating patients as “passive care receivers” and encouraging them to get involved. This requires creating a balance of information and knowledge between healthcare providers and patients.

“When you are planning your trip, you are taking responsibility. You don’t need a travel agency anymore. Patient engagement in healthcare could be the same in ten years. Patients know what they need,” argued Prof. Gamzu, pointing out that – like in other industries – the enabling factor of patient empowerment is access to data.

The “we know better” approach inhibits cooperation

The emerging digital health ecosystem, where all stakeholders are becoming interconnected with data, redefines the role of the patients. They become the partners of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, pharma companies and startups – the old thinking patterns about involving patients are becoming obsolete.

Instead of patient engagement – a process that assumes, per definition, inequality between those who engage and those who are being engaged – we should talk about patient partnership, according to Belinda von Niederhaeusern, Chief Product Officer at DHC – Digital Health Companion. She argued that a reframed nomenclature imposes a different approach. “It’s about co-creation, not just about going to the patient with a final product,” said Gonzalo Linares. As the Global Director of Patient Engagement Neuroscience at Novartis, he is convinced that healthcare organizations must be humbler instead of thinking they know everything and have the necessary expertise. And that requires shifting the approach to product development from silo- to ecosystem-orientation. This new mindset assumes thinking outside the box and getting inspired by how other industries engage customers.

Technology can be a game-changer for patients

The concept of patient engagement is evolving as healthcare transforms. “Patients will get a toolbox of solutions that will keep them healthy – it’s not anymore just a drug or a medical device. And the healthcare professionals’ role will be to support the patients on this journey,” said Florian Rossiaud-Fischer, Director for Innovation & Strategic Partnerships at Hôpital de La Tour, Switzerland. “If we start thinking about healthcare as a whole, we can bring the most value to the patients,” he said. For this to happen, Rossiaud-Fischer called for a “culture reset button” for healthcare and life sciences organizations as well as for patients who got used to paternalistic healthcare where the doctor is the one making decisions and giving instructions.

One way to empower patients is data and technologies that arise outside the healthcare ecosystem and impact patients. For example, ChatGPT can explain complex issues using easy-to-understand language. “Cutting-edge technologies like AI, wearables and smartphones elevate the patient’s voice. But we need to equip people with the knowledge of how to use these technologies, access and understand their own data to make more informed decisions,” said Belinda von Niederhaeusern.

Making the most of digital health engagement

Patient engagement often collides with reality: how is a doctor supposed to guide a patient if an appointment takes only a few minutes?

According to the panel moderator, Maria Hahn, CEO and founder of Nutrix AG, we can’t change the system, but we can rethink what needs to be done during an on-site visit and what can be outsourced to the patient. “Some appointments don’t need to happen if we deliver patients the right coaching and give them the feeling that somebody cares for them using digital tools”.

The key is to realize that an appointment at the doctor’s office is just one of the many Points of Care available, augmented by new digital care delivery models. Prof. Gamzu agreed that doctors should change how they practice. As new technologies emerge, some parts of health and care services will occur outside the healthcare system.

Patients expect close relations with their carers

The new paradigm with the patient in the driver’s seat requires trusted relations with healthcare professionals. Since patients gained unlimited access to expertise outside the healthcare providers – driven by the diffusion of the Iinternet and smartphones – they no longer trust one source of information. Hence, healthcare providers should update their communication strategies. Hôpital de La Tour, for example, created panels of experts from different fields that discuss each case. “Interdisciplinarity inspires trust,” according Rossiaud-Fischer.

Prof. Gamzu added one more tool: Patient-Reported Outcome Measures. “PROMs are a very important type of patient engagement since they allow healthcare providers to understand whether they are doing a good job,” said Prof. Gamzu.

Hospitals used to be “touch and leave” service providers. After the surgery or procedure, patients are discharged and left alone with their condition and doubts. On the other hand, physicians don’t have any feedback on their performance or the course of recovery. “If we do not continue the care process outside of the hospital, we won’t be able to bond with the patients and enhance the relationship” he added.

Von Niederhaeusern concluded the discussion with a thought-provoking statement from the patients themselves: “We don’t want to date (with doctors); we want a relationship.”

Have you missed the “Open Mic Next in Health Series – Turning the Tide: Patient Engagement in Industry and Practice?