How digital transformation can help prioritise patients

By Dr Tom Williams
Elsevier's Dr Tom Williams explains how digital transformation can help healthcare professionals prioritise patient-centricity

COVID-19 has dominated headlines over the past year, triggering people across the world to ask, ‘am I at a greater risk of catching the virus?’ ‘Will my underlying condition make my reaction worse?’ ‘What about my prescription medication?’ Healthcare professionals (HCPs) have been trying to answer these questions since long before the pandemic, in relation to all kinds of medical conditions.

In fact, 88% of HCPs search for information such as drug-drug interactions, dosages, and storage conditions either daily or several times per week. COVID-19 has emphasised the need for physicians to access this information quickly and accurately.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen digital technology enable seamless online shopping, support distance learning, and facilitate an almost overnight shift to remote working. But areas of healthcare – including searching for vital medical information – haven’t seen the same level of digital transformation, and often HCPs are left manually searching through paper records, or vast online databases without knowing who to trust.  This is why now more than ever, it’s important the industry looks for new ways to explore digital transformation and new applications of technology that free up HCPs so they can focus on what they do best – caring for patients.

Big data, big challenge

A rich pool of data is accumulated about every drug throughout its development, and this only gets larger post-market. Preclinical and clinical trial data, as well as adverse events reports are all curated by medical information teams at pharmaceutical companies. HCPs can request this data in order to get support on factors such as dosage, utilisation in special populations, or combinations of drugs to better manage patients’ symptoms.

Websites are the most commonly used source by HCPs to find this information, but the lack of clear and definitive industry standards means searchability varies widely. One website may understand that searching “analgesic” is synonymous with searching “paracetamol” and show articles tagged with both, whereas others may not be able to recognise related terms or brand names dependent up the algorithms employed and how conservative or liberal a website has been designed.

Likewise, cross-referencing between multiple company websites makes deciding on a single answer for a treatment plan difficult. The functionalities and limitations of these websites are not always made clear to HCPs, meaning valuable information can be easily missed. On top of this, 40 percent of HCPs are not aware that pharmaceutical manufacturers have medical information departments available, so the industry needs to do more to make them aware of other places they can access these resources.

Time constraints are another issue. Research shows that the primary reason for a HCP to not use a particular resource is that it simply ‘takes too long’. HCPs are under huge amounts of pressure and can’t afford to spend time rifling through hard to access documents and paper records, or using clunky tech solutions that delay the time it takes to find an answer. Point-of-care decision making is important to ensure the best experience for the patient, and to prevent backlogs in waiting rooms.

A single, searchable resource

To ensure HCPs have easy access to the latest information, the healthcare industry must harness digital technology to build a centralised information resource that supports better data sharing and management. Developing an intuitive search function is key to streamlining the discovery process for HCPs. Integrating AI and natural language programming (NLP) further enhances search capabilities by showing synonyms and context in results, reducing the overall risk that crucial information might be missed.

Creating a collaborative and consolidated resource would also increase confidence in the information available. One study found that 68% of HCPs are concerned about bias when searching for medical information, and that having a third-party organisation give a ‘stamp of approval’ would increase their trust in the data provided by medical information departments. For example, non-profit organisations such as The Pharma Collaboration for Transparent Medical Information (PhactMI) and Medical Information Leaders Europe (MILE) share the common goal of facilitating better-informed decisions for HCPs through a collaborative search platform. As more companies join these organisations and share data through their resources, the more information will become available to HCPs.

PhactMI uses a powerful life sciences data platform, Entellect, on the back end to facilitate a single search for information on drug storage, stability, handling, dosing, etc. Entellect consolidates and connects data from multiple pharma manufacturers, so that HCPs can have a single point of entry to information instead of going to the individual drug developers’ websites. PhactMI increases exponentially in value as more companies join the collaborative.

Efficacy vs safety

Trying to strike the balance between prescribing the most beneficial yet safest drug is a challenge that HCPs contend with every day. Healthcare and pharma companies need to embrace digital transformation and accelerate digital projects to arm HCPs with tech that helps them do their jobs and free them up to spend more time caring for patients. 

Being able to make evidence-based clinical decisions quickly can only happen if the latest medical information is readily available to HCPs and structured in a transparent, explainable way. The healthcare and life sciences industries – including researchers, pharmaceuticals companies and data scientists – must continue to work with HCPs to apply technology to solve these common data challenges, and to ensure they have a positive impact on patient care.


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