Special Report
A special report is content that is edited and produced by the special reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report but do not have editorial control.

Putting patients to the forefront

There is a growing realisation within the life sciences industry that a new business model is needed that involves partnering with patients in their medical care

With the rise of connected devices and big data, consumer and professional healthcare are converging to advance more effective and individualised treatment pathways.

One of the key facilitators of the industry transformation is innovative digital technology. Life Science companies see digital technology’s potential for creating a new patient-centric business model that combines connected devices with big data analytics and artificial intelligence to develop new, more personalised drugs.

Partner at Deloitte Karen Frawley says the Life Sciences industry is undergoing dramatic changes due to globalisation, heightened transparency expectations and an increased exposure to innovative technologies.

“Challenges impacting the traditional business model include escalating costs and pricing pressures, increasing competition, shorter time to market, expiring patents, declining profitability and mounting regulation. These challenges are compounded by the social and economic pressures facing the wider health ecosystem,” she says.


She says the Life Sciences’ initial strategies to address these challenges and preserve a traditional product-driven approach included acquiring or merging with other companies, or becoming more focused on a narrow range of therapy areas.

“Many companies are also looking to demonstrate value for money through a combination of new pricing models, improved benefit tracking and the introduction of “wraparound” services that go “beyond the pill”.

There is a growing realisation within the industry that a new business model is needed that involves patients more effectively; engaging directly with patients and partnering with them in their care.

The emergence of technology enabled care has the potential to revolutionise the healthcare industry according to Ciara Farrell, Senior Associate at Arthur Cox.

“From clinical decision support tools that aid diagnosis, monitor symptoms and track compliance with medications, to Electronic Health Records and mobile apps, healthcare technology is rapidly changing established healthcare delivery and monitoring models. 3D-printing, A.I. and nanotechnology in the clinical and medical setting are all exciting trends to watch,” she says.

Thomas O’Leary, Chief Information Officer at ICON says advances in technologies are enabling better patient care. With an aging population, there aren’t the resources available to support one-to-one consultations, and the use of wearable sensors, as well as telemonitoring capabilities for the monitoring of non-serious conditions aid this, he says.

“It’s a way to get that data faster and also serve that need to be able to give patients their own data and show them how they are progressing. What’s also interesting about these devices is the prevention of sickness through the use of them.”

One particularly interesting development is the use of data genomics to better target specific cancers.

“With any of the big cancers, there are multiple types, and targeting the right treatment for the patient is key and critical. Using the data that’s available from genomics and matching that with the patient and looking at drugs and therapies that best target that specific cancer is what this technology allows us to do today. In the past, it was broad spectrum in terms of the treatment, and those treatments were more toxic in trying to target such a broad range of cancer sources. Getting into a more targeted treatment has the benefit of being less arduous on the patient and more targeted in terms of the right outcome and restoring quality of life and normal health as quickly as possible,” he says.

Frawley gives another good example of technology which allows data-sharing between doctors and patients; the ability to fit sensors to a disposable patch which can be placed on the chest to monitor both acute and chronic diseases.

“Biometric data and disease signs are wirelessly sent and monitored by doctors and patients using Bluetooth technology. New research from Acuity Market Intelligence found that nearly two-thirds of smartphones shipped worldwide in 2017 will feature biometric capability,” she says.

However, there are barriers to the uptake of technology enabled care.

One obvious barrier is how software and technology are treated under medical device regulations, according to Farrell.

“It is particularly important to consider this question, as tech companies now find themselves wading into heavily regulated areas, in some cases unawares. New healthcare models will require novel and practical solutions to manage this barrier.

“As the popularity of wearable technology (and the range and sophistication of products on offer) increases, the e-health industry grows, and the rise of genetic testing and personalised medicine all continue apace, the potential legal issues around such products and technologies come to the fore. Key among these is the issues of privacy, data protection and the ownership of data, along with considerations around the use of such data, such as targeted advertising. In line with this, healthcare professionals and other industry players are increasingly cognisant of the need to ensure they have strong data protection systems in place,” she says.

Frawley says low levels of health and digital literacy impacts patients’ ability to engage efficiently – with between a third and half of people having low health literacy. “This can undermine patient engagement with mobile health technologies,” she says.

O’Leary says it’s vital that the information that devices provide is accurate.

“We need to know that the algoritms that are being used to compute information is accurate. If you’re going to make decisions based on these devices, we need to be assured we’re making the right decision and not get into a situation of misdiagnosis.”

This could all point towards a shift in power from healthcare provider to patient: “I am not sure that there is a power shift, but there certainly is a knowledge shift. When allied to the information on conditions and treatments available online, digital innovations allow patients to take a more proactive role in managing their health and treatment plans. Not only does this increase patient autonomy and create a more informed medical consultation, it allows the healthcare professional to understand better how a patient deals with his or her condition outside of the treatment centre. This ultimately benefits the patients’ healthcare journey,” Ciara Farrell says.