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How can healthcare companies capitalise on digital initiatives and improve patient experiences

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In June 2020, the Capgemini Research Institute conducted a survey of more than 2,000 consumers in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States to understand how consumer behaviour towards health changed from before the pandemic. The findings from this research have some interesting learnings for India. Aashish Chandorkar, Vice President, Capgemini Invent India expounds on these findings and describes the various opportunities that lie ahead for Indian healthcare Inc in an interaction with Raelene Kambli

What are your findings on consumer behaviour in terms of health services? How has this pandemic transformed their views on health and digital health services and what does this mean for life sciences companies and healthcare providers?

Our survey revealed that the pandemic has exacerbated consumer concerns over their physical and mental health and more so for younger age groups such as the Millennials. Over a third of consumers (35 per cent) say they are concerned that their mental health will deteriorate today, up from 26 per cent before the pandemic. Millennials and Gen Z are most concerned about their mental health today. While we have not conducted the study in India, we do believe the results will be similar when it comes to concerns on mental health.

With the pandemic taking up a significant, if not complete, the capacity of healthcare systems, access to healthcare has turned out to be a major concern for various consumers, especially in the UK, where 44 per cent of UK consumers are worried that they will not be able to access healthcare when they need it. 

At the same time, mode of care has undergone a sea change; home is the new point of care. In our research, consumers expressed rising interest in, and adoption of digital health technologies to access care and manage their health. They also reveal a strong appetite for low-touch care options.

Healthcare providers should start to implement a data-driven approach to broaden access to care and scale technology solutions for care management at hospitals. They should also look at redesigning hospitals to reduce contact and devising supported self healthcare management schemes. Life sciences companies need to put a renewed emphasis on outcome-based healthcare, identify and learn from empowered patients, and move more towards digital health services. In terms of digitisation, life sciences companies should partner with tele-mental health startups, embed virtual interactions into clinical trials, innovate to minimise or eliminate touch-based care, and empower consumers through mobile apps. They could also partner with healthcare providers to create an integrated healthcare platform, collaborate to launch low-or-no-touch products and services, harness emerging technology to improve patient engagement and experience, and empower patients to use remote healthcare.

What can Indian health providers and life sciences companies learn from these findings? 

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising in India, there will likely be increasing concerns among all age groups about their physical and mental health. Access and affordability are major concerns, given the low health insurance coverage in India and low density of health workers. Indian life sciences and healthcare organisations should collaborate to quickly ramp up capacity in major COVID-19 affected areas. At the same time, in line with the Government of India’s push, healthcare organisations should embrace digital health solutions so those in need of non-COVID issues have a first port of call.

Life sciences and healthcare organisations should also use this opportunity to start collaborating to share healthcare data, invest more in digital solutions, and focus more on prevention. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies should also look to collaborate among themselves to reduce drug development cycles, leverage digital technologies to improve the clinical trial experience and introduce more low-touch healthcare facilities.

How does this create myriad opportunities for life sciences companies and healthcare providers to improve health outcomes, enhance the patient experience, and reduce the cost of healthcare?

There is a need for these companies to collaborate and form a holistic platform that meets patients’ needs throughout the patient journey, from gathering research, symptom tracking, diagnosis to treatment and disease management. Customer relationships for life sciences companies are driven by the release of new medical devices, therapies, and drugs, where the process is linear and measured in years. With COVID-19, life sciences companies urgently need to accelerate the development process for vaccines, antibodies, and other potential treatment medications.

At the same time, there is an urgency to support patient and healthcare operations with digital offerings such as telemedicine services, testing, contact tracing apps, and clinically validated software to enhance or replace existing therapies.

At Capgemini, we are working closely with leading life sciences and healthcare companies to help them adapt to a world where responsibilities have shifted from the doctor to the patient across all the key areas of disease awareness, diagnosis, treatment/follow-up and maintenance. We are helping many of our key life sciences clients design engagement channels that re-imagine the patient-doctor interactions. We are also working with several exciting partners that bring in niche abilities.

To achieve this what should life sciences companies, patients, doctors, regulators, payers, and technology firms do to build collaborative networks/alliances?

Pharma, regulators, payers, and technology firms have partnered in an unprecedented way to discover COVID-19 vaccines as well as to manage the patient burden for non-COVID-19 diseases.  Partnering will greatly reduce the drug development cycle and accelerate the adoption of digital healthcare. Easing regulations may be an effective short-term measure. Germany has set a precedent in that regard. The German parliament recently passed the Digital Healthcare Act to support digital innovation in healthcare. Provisions include, “fast-track” market entry of medical apps, reimbursement of telehealth consultations, and easing access to patient data for research institutions. One Indian example is Biocon’s COVID-19 drug, Itolizumab, getting DGCA approval very rapidly. India already is seen as the pharmacy of the world, and pharma/life sciences/healthcare ecosystem can collaborate using technology to leapfrog the current stage of healthcare in India.

Your research mainly highlights that home is the new point of care. So can you elaborate on the opportunities for POC MedTech manufacturers?

Several attractive opportunities emerge for MedTech manufacturers to serve consumers’ need for low-touch care in the prevention, information gathering, treatment, and disease management. Health trackers and devices that facilitate telehealth, virtual consultations, and remote monitoring could be products pursued by medical device manufacturers. The growing adoption of portable consumer electronics, such as smartwatches, and their growing capabilities can come in handy. Similarly, startups are doing exciting work on portable devices for measuring various aspects related to personal health such as blood sugar levels, oxygen saturation levels, BP, among others. The pandemic is offering medtech manufacturers a market that is now hungry for more, as consumers take greater control of their own health. Abbott Laboratories, for example, reported 60 per cent yearly growth in Q1 2020 for its Libre system – a sensor-based glucose-monitoring tool. Similarly, there is also a strong potential for ‘mobile’ healthcare devices – portable versions of large healthcare equipment that can be quickly mobilised in remote or congested areas.

Public healthcare providers are laying down provisions that open new opportunities for MedTech companies. UK-based NHS’ Long Term Plan provides a “Comprehensive Model for Personalised Self-Care” that promotes shared decision-making, supported self-management, choice-enablement, and health-budget management, among others. This also provides an opportunity for consumer health organisations and medical device manufacturers to collaborate with healthcare providers to promote digital and touchless services.

So now on, how will the digital health scenario really change for consumers and providers?

It relates to increased collaborative practices. Consumers, on the other hand, can expect to derive benefits from changes in the healthcare ecosystem. As companies and regulators collaborate, and new entrants get serious about health investments, consumers will likely experience benefits such as lower costs, reduced disease burden, improved access, and increased control over their health.

With greater penetration of smartphones and life science companies leveraging that to push digital health applications to consumers, more patients would become empowered. They may then play an active role in drug development as well, such as by actively volunteering for clinical trials. Patient-centric innovation will accelerate. Companies will keep the needs of patients upfront and involve them in designing treatment pathways. Focus on oral versus injectable drugs, reduced hospital visits and touchless interactions will help to drive adherence and improve patient outcomes.

What should health tech companies do to capitalise on the available opportunities?

Health tech companies are well-positioned in the healthcare ecosystem to leverage the shifting consumer trends towards digital health. Personalisation of healthcare is the new norm, even so in the pre-pandemic world. Health tech companies can leverage the massive repository of patient data held pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies to create highly personalised medical offerings.

Health tech companies have seen a surfeit of investor activity in recent times, which should be for solving the immediate challenges of healthcare delivery (access, low-cost delivery, targeted therapies, low-or-no-touch care). The pandemic would only increase adoption rates of digital tech among consumers and health startups have begun taking advantage of that. Some of the top investment has been made towards firms that are enabling digital transformation through remote monitoring and automated assessment of patients, AI-based drug R&D processes, among others. Already there has been a huge interest in enabling technologies, including clinical software for healthcare professionals (HCPs), telemedicine and online consultation platforms for connecting HCP with consumers, and patient engagement-digitalisation. All of this is very true in India as well where VCs are actively looking for exciting health tech startups. At Capgemini, we are seeing a renewed focus on remote workforce and greater digitisation and automation from our clients in life sciences.

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