Over the last 18 months, with all the changes relative to COVID-19 in particular, an evolution in diabetes management has accelerated, and for good reason. Disordered eating and weight gain due to stress impacted people around the world. According to the APA Stress in America survey conducted in February, 61% of U.S. adults reported undesired weight gain, with an average gain of 29 pounds since the pandemic began.

Not only does this make consumers more likely to experience complications from COVID-19, it also puts them at increased risk for type two diabetes in particular. Since many adults are delaying care and thus delaying diagnoses, we could see a wave of new type 2 diabetes diagnoses as people return to more routine in-person care.

Given the influence that this is having on the global community, we are right to give diabetes more of our attention. We know that diabetes increases the risk of COVID-19-specific complications in the short term, but in the long term has many potential comorbidities and complications, such as increased risk of heart disease and neuropathy, all on its own.

We, as contributors to the healthcare industry, have an opportunity to help accelerate the solutions that might provide better patient care and, hopefully, better outcomes. Here are three potential solutions for pharma, device, or DTx marketers to consider based on trends we’ll see in the years ahead. 

REMOTE DISEASE MANAGEMENT

If our current environment has driven anything, it’s the need for more at-home disease management for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Isolation and social restrictions have been a further boon to the already booming digital health and digital therapeutic industries who are responsible for the generation of more than 350,000 health-specific apps. Of course, with so many options, it will be difficult for consumers and care teams to really determine which solution is best.

These digital offerings are ripe for consolidation. Consolidation will not only weed out those that are somewhat less helpful but also help HCPs understand those worth recommending. Through our own research we’ve learned that most HCPs are overwhelmed by the number of offerings and having to process all the information that comes from the various sources in the short time they have with patients.

Customer Experience Solution: For pharmaceutical, device, or app manufacturers, integration is the name of the game here. Data integrations between wearable or smart devices with pharma or medical device apps that provide remote monitoring will allow a one-stop-shop for patients. This enables a full view of their own progress, which should foster better conversations with their HCPs to help them work through disease optimization options. Extra points if the apps can provide dashboards that easily integrate with the HCP’s existing workstreams.

TREATING THE WHOLE PATIENT

Some reports indicate that as many as 90,000 digital health apps were released last year – an average of 250 per day – undoubtedly each solving very specific needs. However, as I wrote three years ago, few apps are focusing on the patient as a whole or making it easy for them to manage multiple conditions.

The pandemic introduced record high levels of mental health challenges for people around the world, which can only exacerbate weight management struggles and the burdensome feeling that can often accompany managing chronic disease. The mental, emotional, and physical toll that people with either type of diabetes must manage means they’ll need support beyond just treatment for their disease.

Customer Experience Solution: Many pharmaceutical manufacturers have been exploring digital therapeutics (DTx) partnerships for years. Those partnerships can and should expand beyond disease-state-specific solutions and include options to make patients’ lives easier all around, such as those with Noom or Headspace. There are additional opportunities to also partner with or provide solutions that help monitor heart health, the cause-and-effect relationship between diet and blood sugar values, and neuropathy concerns that often coincide with the disease.

NAVIGATING THE WORLD AHEAD

For diabetes patients, even as restrictions begin to lift and our world resumes some sense of normalcy, health concerns and complications related to COVID-19 are likely to continue years beyond the pandemic. From managing supply chain issues on necessary medications, decreased medication or device access due to job or insurance changes, and reduced social restrictions are leaving patients at greater risk and are likely to remain prominent.

Customer Experience Solution: In addition to spending time driving awareness for therapies and diagnostics, manufacturers should put real dollars behind making patients aware of financial support and access resources and communications to help advise and/or quell concerns about supply chain issues. These practical and emotional concerns will exist for years to come, and brands can be built by providing the best post-acquisition resources.

We, as a global society, have never been more focused on healthcare in all of its forms. Regardless of the industry, if you represent a brand, you’re also working in healthcare marketing right now. For those actively involved in supporting patients and their care team, there’s a real opportunity to take advantage of the well-deserved focus on health and wellness by offering more impactful solutions to help people with diabetes navigate this new normal.

About the Author:

Jen Batey is SVP of Integrated Strategy for GSW Columbus. A passionate learner and teacher, Jen spends much of her time aiming to understand what drives and motivates people to behave as they do, and, ultimately, what will make them act. With a background and enthusiasm for all things digital, Jen now focuses on ways to tie human behavior, meaningful brand strategy, medical strategy, and impactful engagement together to benefit patients, their care teams, and the brands looking to reach them. She’s had more than 20 years of experience working across industries, supporting both consumers and B2B audiences, but healthcare is where she’s found her home. Jen also enjoys traveling to learn more about how different cultures experience the world. This allows her to further amplify her creative side through her love of travel and landscape photography.