Alira Health

Alira Health

How to Co-Design a Solution with Patients to Meet Their Needs

How can Life Sciences companies ensure that the solutions you spend years developing truly respond to patient needs? You can leverage patient-centric co-design in the development process, employing a validated, measurable methodology.

To learn what patient-centric co-design is, how you can benefit from this approach, and how to get started, we spoke with two experts on Patient Engagement and co-design: Giulia Pierini, Principal, Patient Engagement and Eduardo Perez, Senior Consultant and Patient-Centric Co-Design Lead at Alira Health.

What is patient-centric design?
Eduardo Perez

Eduardo Perez

Eduardo: Patient-centric design or patient-centric co-design, as we call it at Alira Health, is the process of identifying an unmet need or set of pain points and developing a solution that addresses these issues.

With patient-centric co-design, we want patients around the table with the designers, engineers, and payers so patients can discuss their needs, motivations, desires, and fears. Their input becomes part of the design brief. But it’s not just their input; patients actually become decision-makers in the design process.

Giulia: Patient-centric co-design employs a validated, measurable methodology. The goal is to create healthcare that answers patient needs rather than assuming patient needs.

When should a manufacturer begin involving patients in co-design?

Eduardo: Ideally, you begin at the point of defining the initial concept. As you embark on the process of discovery and research, you can co-create the conceptual solution even before you enter the proof-of-concept stage. If you validate the idea with patients when it is only a concept, you’ll save time and money in the future.

Imagine you are about to develop a digital health solution to solve a communication problem between patients and providers. Before you decide to build an app, you need to verify that it’s feasible for patients to use. If you know that the target patient population uses smart phones, you can work with patients to co-design an app that will enable efficient communication. Engage with them to figure out how they will use it, what features they want, what’s vital to include and what is not. You want to ensure that patients find the solution useful and simple. They also must want to use it.

With MedTech, you need to carefully consider human factors as you begin the process of discovery and research. Understand the main pain points, unmet needs, problems, motivations, and desires so that the device you create responds to those. The physical interaction of the person with the device matters; always adapt the solution to the patient, rather than expecting the patient to adapt to the solution. For example, a company planned to help people with motor disabilities to eat. They thought they could solve this unmet need by providing a caregiver to each patient who would help them with this activity. Through a co-design project, we revealed that the most relevant solution for patients would enable them to eat by themselves, and that they rejected the idea of a caregiver’s assistance. By following a design thinking methodology, we created an assistive device that enabled them to eat on their own.

What is the difference between co-designing with patients and a traditional user experience (UX) approach?

Eduardo: Patient-centric co-design is broader than UX; the experience of the user with the product is just one aspect of the co-design process which adds other elements including behavioral design and human factors. We look at how patients will use the solution and how it will become a part of their lives – both physically and mentally. This provides a more holistic view of how the solution will satisfy patient needs. With patient-centric co-design, we consider the patient as the ultimate user, but we also consider everything and everyone around the patient.

Giulia: Five to ten years ago, we saw a trend towards patient-support programs, using technologies to increase adherence. The problem was that many solutions were created without consulting patients. Patients would use the solution for a week and then stop because it didn’t add value to their lives or solve their unmet needs. Patients need to feel that the product is worth using. That’s why we believe in not just engaging with patients but adding value by converting insights into actionable points for companies.

Is the healthcare industry interested in patient-centric co-design today?
Giulia Pierini

Giulia Pierini

Eduardo: We do see a trend towards gathering patient input, but not yet towards co-designing with them. Ideally, everyone wants to engage with patients, especially since they are increasingly educated about their conditions. But you may not know how to approach patients, how to collect insights, and how to include them as decision-makers.

Giulia: Pharma is leading the way in patient engagement, increasingly involving patients in the design of clinical protocols, for example. MedTech and digital health are expected to start involving patients more, and patient-centric co-design could potentially go faster in those segments because patients are often using their solutions directly.

Why should companies consider co-designing solutions with patients?

Giulia: The most important reason to do this is that the enormous benefit to patients, which is the ultimate goal of patient-centric healthcare.

Eduardo: Agreed. Working with patients allows you to focus on creating a solution that meets their needs, rather than something overly complex that does not. As a result, you will save time and money. And the more you co-design with patients, the more efficient and effective your solutions and the more time and money your business will save.

What is the first step towards involving patients in co-designing solutions?

Guilia: Do not assume that it’s easy. You need a systematic approach and methodology to co-design with patients. Alira Health can help you with this journey, based on our first-hand experience and expertise.

At Alira Health, our Patient Engagement team brings the patient voice into healthcare development. We can guide you in the process of patient-centric co-design, resulting in more effective solutions and more value to patients.

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