What My Mother Taught Me About Digital Health

Michael Greenberg, Vice President, Regional Medical Head, North America at Sanofi Vaccines, reflects on telehealth’s potential in the pharmaceutical industry and across the health system.

Virtual doctor visitFor healthcare providers like my mother, a practicing physician in Georgia, the sizeable expansion of telehealth this year has enhanced her personal connections with patients.

Driven by the pandemic, she has switched to more telehealth appointments, building stronger connections with her patients, their family members and even their pets, and she’s gained a better understanding of their day-to-day lives and the health challenges they face. Being in their own homes, patients are often more at ease than when in an office setting.

Telehealth’s expansion has also assisted in making care more accessible. This is especially true for patients in rural areas who often face access challenges including inconvenient or unreliable transportation, and limited availability of local healthcare resources, among others.

But virtual care technology like video-enabled well or sick visits, remote monitoring and chronic disease management are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating a digital health ecosystem that supports better outcomes for patients. During a recent Reuters Total Health panel, I discussed telehealth’s broader potential in the pharmaceutical industry and across the health system.

Telehealth is an invaluable tool for helping continue care while mitigating infectious disease transmission risk.

Helping providers translate virtual visits to in-person appointments for physical interventions like vaccinations is critical to protecting against a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases. Sanofi has worked with healthcare providers to create Adaptive Vaccination Solutions. The solutions include guides for how providers can help maximize their success with patients when using telehealth.

We expect telehealth use to remain at an increased level even after the pandemic. This may lead to an increased total number of unique patient visits and in turn, give the health industry more opportunities to engage with patients on staying up-to-date with immunizations across the care continuum.

Telehealth can help healthcare providers facilitate patient onboarding for and adherence to new therapies.

More than 40% of patients with certain diseases sustain significant risks by misunderstanding, forgetting or ignoring healthcare advice, and treatment non-adherence is also a risk factor for up to 125,000 deaths per year.

Clear and effective communication between health providers and patients, and continuous collaboration between patients and their providers, are key to improving patient adherence. Digital health tools can be effective in supporting both: One study found that medication adherence improves among patients who use digital activity trackers—and adherence increases as consistency of tracker use and activity level increase.

Telehealth has the potential to make clinical trials more inclusive.

The rapid rise in telehealth and higher comfort level overall around remote interactions have accelerated the potential for making virtual or distributed clinical trials a more regular reality.

Making virtual or distributed clinical trials more common could make it possible for more patients to overcome barriers to enrollment. This provides an opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to be much more inclusive and have clinical trial samples more reflective of the population—in turn leading to better outcomes for all patients. For this to happen, addressing the digital divide—so that disparities in technology access do not inadvertently lead to new disparities in clinical trials—will be important.

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