Patient engagement drives successful integration of promising digital health tools

Doctor and digital devices
Promising digital health tools could benefit from more focus on patient engagement during the implementation period.

Digital health tools that show promise during clinical trials frequently fall flat when integrated into the real world, but a broader focus on patient engagement could help ease that transition.

Clinical trials rely on rigorous efforts to ensure patients are using a product correctly, in part because publishing standards require a low attrition rate among participants. Although it’s difficult to invest that level of resources into engaging patients in a real-world application, some of those same principles can ensure real-world success, according to an article in NEJM Catalyst.

Joseph C. Kvedar, M.D., vice president of connected health at Partners HealthCare, and Alexander Fogel, an M.D. candidate at Stanford University, argued that engagement efforts need to be rooted in any rollout of digital health tools. Using behavioral economics, social media and real-world metrics will ensure patients and consumers are motivated to use the tool long-term. Kvedar has been a strong proponent of incorporating patient engagement into health apps.

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Last year, the Food and Drug Administration released guidance emphasizing the importance of real-world evidence and real-world data when evaluating new medical devices.

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“Evidence is an important means for convincing healthcare executives to buy these products,” Kvedar and Fogel wrote. “However, simply learning that an intervention was successful in a clinical study is not enough. Real-world validation is also important as digital health companies own the validation process from product development to scale.”

Experts have said the best patient engagement techniques combine low-tech and high-touch methods. Although providers see the potential benefits of patient engagement tools, many are unsure which ones to recommend to patients. The fact that 50% of consumers are skeptical about healthcare technology adds another complicated layer to integration efforts.  

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