End-user technology has transformed how companies in every industry engage with their customers, opening up exciting new avenues for innovation and disruption. 

Commercial industries, such as retail, transportation, entertainment, and hospitality, quickly became the vanguard of this technological revolution. Brands like Amazon, Uber, Disney, and Airbnb redefined what it means to connect with customers on new levels, shaping how other industries think about engagement. 

The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are particularly well-suited to an evolution in human engagement. Companies in this space have already begun focusing more on patient centricity, placing a strong emphasis on maintaining health and well-being. Even so, their conventional channels of engagement—primarily websites and dedicated mobile applications—are rarely attractive or engaging enough for people used to high quality experiences from consumer brands. So it’s vital to explore unconventional ideas and technologies that can help the industry achieve higher levels of engagement, and ultimately better patient experiences and outcomes. Such approaches should clearly augment the personal patient-doctor relationship – rather than aim to replace it entirely.

Today, people expect companies to engage where they feel most comfortable: at home, on social media, and through applications or devices they already use. They expect memorable, convenient experiences when dealing with the brands that impact their lives, and healthcare is no different. It’s important to note however, that while we believe that these new, innovative approaches will have specific value in helping to manage the care of many patients, such as those with long term chronic conditions – remote care will never fully replace healthcare settings. But it does have advantages dealing with specific situations.

This white paper will explore how healthcare organizations can innovate to better engage with their patients and vice versa. Readers will learn how to leverage widely used messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal to reach patients and give them new ways to connect with your brand. We’ll also explore the possibilities of virtual reality, augmented reality, and gamification solutions, highlighting products we’ve created together with multinational healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations. 

Exploring new patient engagement channels

Gamification

The video game industry is an excellent place to draw inspiration, as it’s built entirely on engagement with its players. Every aspect of gaming comes down to how engaging a title is, from the first reveal trailers and previews to the box art and the experience of playing the finished product. Due to its global popularity, the video game market is on track to surpass US$200 billion by 2023, so if the healthcare industry can tap into some of the concepts that the gaming industry pioneered, there’s a significant opportunity to boost engagement. 

Here at Globant, our gaming studio worked with a multinational medical device organization to develop a virtual reality world, creating a Fortnite-like experience, called Avatar. The software enables patients to design avatars, move around the world, and interact with other avatars controlled by physicians. We designed the concept to test if the process of detecting clinical depression could be improved, providing a comfortable space where people could discuss complex topics without fear of judgment or shame. 

Augmented reality

For pharmaceutical companies, customer engagement becomes much more challenging in the later stages of the product journey. Once they develop the product, perform clinical trials, and approve it for mass manufacturing, they need to begin a new engagement process when it hits the commercial market. 

Augmented reality (AR) is one of the most impactful ways to achieve this. With AR, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies can encourage customers to use their cellphones and capture their imaginations by enhancing their perception of the real world. 

For example, in partnership with a major pharmaceutical brand and one of the world’s most extensive entertainment organizations, Globant developed an AR product that teaches children how to apply adhesive bandages. The product brings beloved fictional characters to life and promotes active play, boosting engagement and well-being among children.

We also developed an AR product called Smart Shelf, which helps customers find the correct products when looking at busy retail shelves. When users hold up their phone and scan it over the store shelf, the AR product highlights the product they are looking for and suggests alternatives that might also improve the healing experience for their particular ailment. 

Virtual reality

COVID-19 helped break down the regulatory, financial, and behavioral barriers that prevented a widespread integration of virtual care in the healthcare system. As a result, virtual doctor visits rose from 15% to 19% from 2019 to early 2020; this jumped to 28% in April 2020. Plus, 80% of consumers say they are likely to have another virtual visit, even post COVID-19. Meanwhile, for pharmaceutical companies, virtual reality (VR) is providing the means to more effectively pre-screen subjects for clinical trial eligibility, in combination with the use of connected devices and remote monitoring.

On the business side, virtual care can reduce administration costs, increase the efficiency of care delivery, reduce the cost of care, and increase revenue and growth, so healthcare providers should seriously consider the possibilities that come with providing virtual care through VR.

VR provides an immersive experience that takes patients to a simulated world. As a relatively new technology with growing adoption rates, it can boost engagement and differentiate players in the healthcare space.

As an example of the potential of VR, Globant partnered with a top pharmaceutical company to understand how the technology could enhance doctor-patient interaction training. We combined the power of Samsung Gear VR with Unity3D, a powerful cross-platform 3D engine widely used in the video game industry. The result was an immersive first-person experience where the doctor interacts with a patient and then later views the interaction as it went from the patient’s perspective, providing an insightful experience for both parties. 

Another project involved developing a 360o VR surgery training video designed to improve the restricted views available in common surgical videos. The product provides the ability to see the surgical procedure up close, along with the systems and instrumentation used in the operating theater. While we developed this innovation primarily for trainee doctors, there are endless opportunities to apply a 360o VR video concept to the patient journey. 

Voice process automation (VPA)

Voice-activated tools like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant have become mainstream in the consumer market, allowing healthcare companies to engage with patients in their homes and on the go.  

For example, healthcare providers could use VPA to help patients connect with doctors or pharmacies and book appointments, offering a competitive difference in an industry traditionally reliant on phone calls, emails, and form filling. 

Here at Globant, we leveraged the power of VPA to build a conversational interface tool based on voice comments. The solution allows doctors or physicians to record feedback on a voice recorder and upload it to their other platforms, like Salesforce. 

Existing communications channels

One of the most convenient ways to approach patient engagement is to connect with people on the channels they already use, rather than expecting them to download a new app or visit a dedicated website. 

For example, Globant helped one provider implement conversational interfaces for pre-diagnosis through WhatsApp, giving front-line support to patients with migraine symptoms and assisting HCPs to improve their diagnoses. The digital tool enables HCPs to approach people who report migraine symptoms and help them with treatment options, transforming how healthcare professionals communicate with their patients. The application was launched in three South American countries and is open to the whole population.

Asthma patients can also benefit from tools like this. Studies have shown that, for various reasons, many asthma patients discontinue their treatment plans. Organizations can use communication platforms like WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram to actively engage with patients at these drop-off moments, eliminating the need to restart treatment from scratch.  

Wrapping up

Healthcare is constantly transforming, and patient engagement is a top priority. However, understanding and meeting new patient expectations requires blending technology, innovation, and experimentation.  

Healthcare and pharmaceutical players can benefit significantly from looking at other industries for inspiration. For example, by taking note of how companies in the entertainment, travel, video game, and retail spaces are already engaging with their customers, the healthcare industry can discover new ways to engage and better understand their end-consumers.

Globant helps healthcare and pharmaceutical companies reach the next level of engagement. We can create more relevant and more accurate conversations between patients and their healthcare providers using new technologies and platforms.

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