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Tech to the rescue (but not how you think)



Last week we attended the FDA’s Digital Health Innovation Workshop, which brought together multiple stakeholders to help co-design the FDA’s approach to precertifying digital health companies, which will have a different path towards regulatory approval than drugs and devices.


We applaud the FDA’s participatory design of their precert program, and their recognition that both tech companies and patients want to see products come to market quickly — yet safely.


Unsurprisingly, there were few patients or patient advocates present at the meeting, yet perhaps what was surprising was the enthusiasm with which attendees were talking about the need for patient perspective.


I was pleasantly surprised that panel after panel, the tech company reps present kept bringing up the need to understand the end-user — the patient.


And this is why I love tech companies — because technologists get it.

They’ve been trained to do user-testing and to prioritize UX/UI, not because regulations have required it, but because they know it helps make better products.


This is a far departure from the “doctor knows best” era of healthcare R&D, where if you wanted to know about patients, you just ask doctors. It has been challenging to reconcile this paternalistic past with the modern day acknowledgment that patients have their own perspectives (gasp!). So it’s refreshing to skip over the value patient insights bring and get right down to the mechanics of how effectively engage with patients.


I enjoyed talking with Jennifer Newberger, Apple’s senior legal counsel leading their work in healthcare. She has a background in medical devices, and passionately articulated that she and her colleagues actually want to make an impact.


Apple is a clear leader when it comes to user experience. They make products people stand in lines for. Yet, when it comes to the brave new world of healthcare, consumer needs are much more complex. A chronic illness patient whose part time (or full time) job is managing their care is going to have very different needs, behaviors and priorities from someone who uses Apple products for fitness tracking. They’ll need to take a direct approach to understand diverse user priorities.


I chatted with Howard Look from Tidepool, who shared how their tech platform for people with diabetes was born out of a need he and his team saw in their own patient journeys (not unlike our own founding story). Still, he acknowledged that they could still do better reaching more diverse patients (don’t worry — we all could).


And there were others, like CeeCee O’Connor from Boston Scientific, who passionately conveyed the need to work with end-users for discovery, design and user-testing. But she highlighted the problem so many face: where do you find the patients?


So while I’m sure technology will revolutionize how care is delivered, what I am most interested in at the moment is how technologists will disrupt paternalistic methods of R&D. We hope their commonplace practice of listening to their end-user will embolden the rest of healthcare to do the same.


Patients are savvy. And companies and innovators would be wise to work with patients throughout the R&D process.

We at Savvy take a special interest in working with tech companies to bridge the divide between stakeholders. Tech companies get it. Patients get it. We just need to shorten the distance between the healthcare industry and its end-user so companies can get meaningful products and services to market faster, and patients get solutions that actually address their problems.


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Savvy Cooperative helps companies get the consumer and patient insights they need by providing an online marketplace to connect professionals directly with patients of all conditions. Reach out if we can help. https://savvy.coop or follow us on Twitter @savvy_coop.

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