February 1, 2024

The Benefits of Co-Creation in Patient Companion Apps

There are several approaches to product development, one of which involves the intimate involvement of the end-user in the software design and the development process.

The Benefits of Co-Creation in Patient Companion Apps

Within the pharmaceutical industry there are divided opinions on whether to build or adopt a digital health product for a new use or market. Some companies believe that creating their own products for specific patient and/or physician uses is the best method to ensure adoption and engagement, while others believe that partnering with an existing digital health market solution is a better alternative.

At Alex Therapeutics we have experience with both models, having built our own direct to consumer products, but also having partnered with multiple pharma companies to co-create new products for different patient populations. There are pros and cons of each model, but co-creation has many benefits and is more suitable in certain cases. In this article we take a closer look at what co-creation means, and how it can be a great way to ensure adoption and engagement with a patient companion app.

What does co-creation mean?

Co-creation as a concept in product development refers to involving multiple stakeholders, such as customers, users and partners in the development process. It recognizes that a form of in-depth collaboration between multiple parties can lead to more relevant products, and ultimately better outcomes. Co-creation opens the product development process to a wide range of voices that would not typically be involved - in particular, the end-users, or customers. In healthcare, this could be patients or healthcare practitioners, or both.

The term co-creation was popularized by a Harvard Business Review article in 2000, with the article focused on the relationship between a business and its customers. Co-creation, however, can also include other stakeholders, such as employees, suppliers, government, and key industry influencers. In healthcare, where regulation plays an important role, regulatory agencies could also be added to the list. Healthcare is also unique in that adoption of products often involves buy-in from two different “end-users” - clinicians and patients. Although their interests should be aligned in finding the best outcomes for patients, what they would expect from a product may differ.

The benefits of co-creating patient companion apps

Patient companion apps are used by patients to support them at one or various stages of their treatment journey. They can serve a wide range of functions - from helping with medication management, to providing an intervention (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), or aiding the monitoring of disease symptoms. Whether or not healthcare practitioners have access to the same or a different set of data via their own integrated platform or interface, depends on the product.

A common pitfall in product development is building a product that no one needs, or uses. When this happens, there has often been misalignment between what the internal team thinks the end user wants, and what they actually want. This is no different when it comes to patient companion apps - with the largest driver of adoption being the value that the app provides to patients by meeting their needs.

Based on our experience, this is often where co-creation of patient companion apps results in better outcomes versus taking an existing solution, and trying to market it directly to patients, without consultation. If patients are involved in the co-creation process, then we can get to know their needs intimately, and ensure that the product is very specifically adapted - whether that be culturally, in the case of a local market solution, or by condition, with different patient populations normally having different unmet needs- which can be disease-related, treatment-related or healthcare-system related, for example. The end result of co-creation with patients for a specific use case, is better product engagement, which ultimately leads to better outcomes.

Another benefit of co-creating with patients and healthcare professionals is that there is “buy-in” from the beginning, ensuring that there is early adoption of the companion app, which is one of the best indicators of success. As part of the product development process, the product designers and internal team get to know the patient and healthcare professional communities that include key influencers within that disease indication for that market. These people will become early product advocates and help the product grow organically within that community. As trust plays a very important role when it comes to medical products, word of mouth marketing is one of the strongest forms of advocacy for a patient companion app.

The same influencers that are part of the co-creation process can also play a role in supporting the collection of clinical evidence or cost data, if a study is required to support the effectiveness and/or cost-effectiveness of the companion app. This is very important if an app is being developed with payer reimbursement in mind, as a value-based case will need to be built that can demonstrate health benefits, and cost savings. Often the key opinion leaders who are involved in the co-creation of the patient companion app can also be involved in the study, or can introduce the company to the relevant parties.

The final benefit of co-creation is the ability to rapidly prototype and iterate. Once the relationships have been established with patients and healthcare professionals, early versions of the product can be beta-tested by those users, allowing an agile, iterative, product development process. This allows patient companion apps to be enhanced based on real-time feedback, increasing the chances of their succes.

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