According to a report published by the World Health Organisation, only about 50 per cent of people take their daily medications correctly. Drug non-adherence is costing people their lives and over US$700 billion each year in avoidable medical expenses. As healthcare providers and governments try to find new ways to ensure their patients follow prescriptions properly, the dignity and respect for patients must be at the forefront of any solution.
Healthcare providers are exploring different approaches to increase drug adherence. The age-old method of asking patients is tedious and inaccurate, resulting in patients lying due to guilt or embarrassment. Other proposed methods include bio-monitoring devices and urine tests, which are inconvenient, demeaning and costly. No one wants to handle bodily fluids or feel like they are being monitored because they cannot be trusted. Some providers have tried paying patients to adhere; however, studies have showed this method to only be effective in the short term and only with unsustainably high pay outs, while also calling into question ethics.
The common problem with these solutions is that they further disrupt patients’ lives and take agency away from patients. Managing chronic illness is already a life altering task and it is imperative that any solution to adherence does not cause further disruption.
Patient-centred care has shown the most promise for increasing drug adherence, shifting the focus from the patient’s disease to the patient themselves, identifying their individual needs and concerns, while empowering them to collaborate with providers on their treatment. If a patient feels that they can make an impact on their health, they are more likely to do so. In addition, engaging families as part of a patient’s care has been shown to be one of the most effective tools in long-term disease management.
While multifaceted, at its core patient-centred care is all about fostering relationships between patients and providers. Developing these relationships takes time and requires human-to-human interaction. However, the busy schedules of healthcare professionals can make implementing these plans difficult.
Searching for technological solutions to non-adherence must walk the tightrope of making patient-centred care less time consuming while keeping care individualised and human. Tech solutions are often promising on paper but end up being isolating and cumbersome user experiences. New tech can also clutter up users’ lives, adding yet another gadget they have to keep up with. But the answer to increasing drug adherence may already be in our pockets.
Cell phones are the perfect tool to solve non-adherence, offering an unobtrusive way to connect providers and patients on a platform that is already a staple of daily life.
When patients confirmed a pill had been taken via a text, they showed a 30-37 per cent increase in adherence. Allowing patients to confirm their dosage gives them the agency to feel they are taking control of their care and it is also convenient, not requiring a significant or complicated change to their daily routine. Deploying cellular devices to tackle non-adherence allows some tasks to be automated, such as reminders and step-by-step medication regimen, while simultaneously providing a direct line for personal communication and feedback between caregivers, patients, and friends and family in the care network.
The systems we design must keep patient experience at the forefront and, because phones are so commonplace, we must also jump at the opportunity to harness their unprecedented power to collect data on patient outcomes.
By harnessing the power of blockchain-based applications, immutable data collection can be automatically pooled with existing health service databases to help create new benchmarks for drug performance. Mobile phones can offer insights on treatments by drug, demographics, and doctor on a scale that has never been seen before. Utilising these data sets, providers can improve decision making, tailor care strategies for better outcomes and decrease medication errors.
Curating these real time, widespread data sets will also be paramount in the implementation of AI technology for the healthcare networks of tomorrow. Mobile phones hold the power to help facilitate this transition, optimising the tech of the future while helping treat the patients of today. By simply engaging patients on unified networks now, we can minimise back logging and pedantic data collection in the long run.
We must introduce unified, highly sophisticated solutions that aid in providing the highest quality patient centred care. However, almost paradoxically, the more tech solutions we introduce, the more they must blend into the background, focusing care on person-to-person interaction and integrating into the tech that is already part of our everyday lives.
So much of what we do is based around our mobile phones. They are the ultimate multi-tool for navigating the modern world. Deploying them to tackle drug non-adherence is a no-brainer and provides a simple, unobtrusive way to save millions of lives and billions of dollars in avoidable healthcare costs.
Nicholas Rumble is the founder and CEO of Curaizon.