The global pandemic focused the minds of scientists, clinicians, government officials and pharmaceutical companies on developing clinical solutions. Vaccines were developed in record time, and new clinical practices and treatments were found for those who fell ill.
Alongside this largely clinical research, however, emerged a parallel exercise, focused on human behaviour. It became apparent that, in advance of vaccines being rolled out, we would need to encourage people to engage in social distancing, isolating at home, and wearing face-masks. And then when vaccines were approved, new campaigns focused on encouraging their uptake.
Governments around the world began consulting behavioural scientists, anthropologists, data scientists, and experts in human-centred design to understand how people might and were responding. And to help input into the design of everything from posters informing people how best to wash their hands, to instructions for taking lateral flow tests.
It would be easy to conclude that collaborations of this kind – bridging the medical and the behavioural – routinely take place in all areas of healthcare. But the reality is that it remains the case that almost all spending on medical research focuses on the development of new clinical advancements in medicines or practice. And very little on how people will ultimately respond.
The result is a mismatch between clinical solutions and real-world outcomes. One of the clearest examples of this is the fact that around 50% of patients of chronic conditions fail to take their medical treatments in full or in the way that they have been prescribed. It is estimated that this causes more than 100,000 preventable deaths, and around $100billion in preventable medical costs per year.
In some areas the problem is especially apparent. In cancer care, for example, there is growing evidence of the importance of behaviour in improving the effectiveness of treatments and ultimately improving the outcomes for patients. This includes everything from monitoring symptoms, to whether particular medications are taken in the correct way, to whether a patient eats, drinks and rests well.
In short, there is a huge opportunity to improve treatments in areas like cancer if we can develop new ways of supporting and encouraging patients to monitor and change their behaviour. Which is why at CogCo we are proud to be working with a technology platform who are doing just that. They are called Vinehealth, and have just released a report on how they are embedding behavioural and data science into their platform that helps patients to monitor their treatments, and encourages them to engage in activities that are most likely to improve their health.
Take what they are doing around non-adherence, for example. Cancer patients might have as many as fifteen different medications to take during their care. So when cancer patients sign-up to use Vinehealth for the first time, they provide information about their prescribed treatments, and when they are required to take it. They are then prompted to take their medication at the correct time, and given feedback on how many other Vinehealth users are doing the same thing (a classic use of ‘social norms’ to encourage further engagement).
We think that this use of technology has huge potential in helping to provide cancer patients with the tools to regain control of their conditions.
If you would like to read more about Vinehealth and how they are using behavioural science to build their app, you can do so here.