The Healthcare Trinity
When Art and Science Meet Technology
In the last decade or so, the healthcare market research industry has been talking about the need to consider the Art of Medicine as well as the Science of Medicine in activities with healthcare professionals. This goes along with the idea that treating an individual patient goes beyond assessing a set of clinical parameters and data, to responding as an intuitive professional to the human condition and its malfunctions. As researchers, we need to consider this in our study design and the questions we ask research respondents.
The two – the Art and Science of Medicine - are of course integral. The Technology of Medicine is equally as integral and it is wrong to think that Technology in healthcare is new. Art, Science, and Technology have been braided together as the trinity of medical practice for longer than we realize - healthcare professionals have been reaching for blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes for over 100 years! However, in the past few years, the advent of big data, robotic surgery, AI and machine learning, minuscule chips, smart devices, pharmacologically-coated implants, and Bluetooth technology, for example, have meant an explosion of innovation and the related need for solutions across many areas:
- Surgical tools and systems. Surgeons benefit from tools and surgical systems that are constantly updated with new developments. These often come with IT support and data storage systems. They can engage with external devices (for example, highly portable, digital endoscopes that use smartphones as the screen and video recording element.) Additionally, there is increasing demand for these tools to have connectivity to hospital IT systems and electronic medical record (EMR) networks.
- High-cost capital equipment. New imaging technologies are being developed to allow better diagnosis and vision for the healthcare professional. Robotics can “learn” and assist in aspects of procedures by taking over certain tasks (for example, surgical stapling). These devices and others also gather and share data to improve surgical techniques and patient outcomes. Again, linking these devices to IT systems and EMR networks is a priority.
- Lower-cost capital inpatient equipment. Due to differences in purchasing structure and brand relationships, lower-cost capital inpatient equipment is treated separately from higher-cost capital equipment (above). None the less, some types may share the same advances and needs as other capital equipment/tools.
- Surgical implants. What used to be basic devices can now be patient-matched-3D printed according to a patient’s anatomy. Some surgical implants can communicate with external devices and apps (e.g., cardiac pacemakers with Bluetooth connectivity) to facilitate patient management and improve outcomes.
- Patient self-administration devices and invasive wearable monitors. This is an area of rapid expansion due in part to the development of monoclonal antibodies, in-home infusion kits, and the explosion in the T2 diabetes population. The growth of closed-loop systems and processors with learning algorithms (such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors) is part of this growth as well. Many devices can be linked to external smart devices, apps, and tracking software to allow data collection and sharing. This explosion of patient data and sharing is challenging due to HIPAA requirements if the data are stored on third-party servers.
- Adherence tracking packs. Technology built into medication packaging is a new area that claims to be able to emit reminders and tell when a patient has taken the medication. Currently, developers are working to overcome problems such as tampering, the inability to tell whether a patient has taken the medication or simply disposed of it, and medicolegal issues..
What are the implications for marketing research in combining Science, Art, and Technology in MedTech?
- First, we must keep up! It is our responsibility to always be on top of the latest technology and developments in the therapeutic areas in which we work.
- Secondly, in the same way that we never consider a piece of technology in isolation of its usage context when we conduct research, we should never research a therapeutic area without considering the relevance and impact of technological developments.
- We need to think about and plan for testing these advanced technological features in the product development process. In new device development, hands-on testing is the gold standard because actual “look and feel” is hard to simulate in surgical devices, as well as in patient wearables.
- Close collaboration between the researches and the R&D team needs to be built into the timing and budget of the research. For example, someone from R&D should be present during in-person qualitative research sessions to help troubleshoot. Additionally, R&D collaboration can ensure researchers have accurate and clear diagrams and written explanations that are both reader-friendly and as close as possible to the end-product.
- Depending on the product and the goal of the study, the prescriber may not be the only important respondent group. For example, a capsule camera for remote endoscopy is prescribed by a physician but administered and monitored by a nurse, who also sets up and manages the peripheral equipment and uploads the recording. In certain situations, the nurse may be responsible for the initial review of the video. If the client is developing new technology that affects the administration, monitoring, or upload processes or procedures, it makes sense to talk to nurses about it as well as prescribers (and potentially purchasing managers depending on the setting).
MedTech is a new area of growth and exploration, with many exciting things happening, and many challenges rearing their heads – in Science, Art, and Technology. Its presence as a specialty area in marketing research is also growing, which gives us an opportunity – and a new responsibility. There are problems that cannot or should not be solved with technology. There are products and situations where technology can be applied but where it is undesirable or simply unnecessary, and some that require careful thought and implementation in order not to create further problems. Marketing researchers in MedTech must bring to the process a clear perspective on the industry and business, as well as a duty to represent the view of the patient. As always, we should remain curious and objective, and not be afraid to give both bad news and good!