Personalization, Patients And Product Management — An Experiment In Caring

What am I doing with my life?

I’ve worked in product management for 20 years or so and I’ve grown accustomed to people not understanding what I do. I’m pretty sure my father in-law thinks I code websites. My friends think I build mobile apps. I stopped trying to explain my job to my wife and kids except in the vaguest terms.

And I’m not going to explain it here either. You may not care, and I clearly can’t do it justice. Rather, let’s focus on something you may have in common with me – a career in clinical trials.

Working in clinical trials means something.

You play a part in advancing medicine. Whether you test molecules in a lab, work the frontlines caring for patients, sit at a computer pouring over complex datasets, or are one of the thousands of people like myself who have a different role in the endeavor – you are trying to bring forward treatments that will one day make life better for others.

Responsibility isn’t just a 14-letter word.

This endeavor comes with responsibility. To the patients. To the data. To science itself. There is an implicit ethical responsibility baked into the scientific method – thou shalt not cheat. There are accelerators and efficiencies; but there are no shortcuts. And that means clinical trials take a long time.

Therefore, a product manager building clinical trial software isn’t likely to see how their work to accelerate the timeline of a trial, streamline operations, or improve collection of endpoint data benefits someone today who is waiting for a better treatment to get to market.

While I’m fully capable of imagining these long-term results, like most humans, I delight in instant gratification. Luckily, product management does give me an awesome power – access to a demo environment.

How patient centric can a piece of software be?

While normally demos are for impressing partners and prospects with all the cool stuff your system is capable of – I’ve found it’s a lot more fun to use them to push a product as far as I can in ways it wasn’t necessarily intended.

Recently AiCure released a new mobile application to the App Store called Patient Connect. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a release. Not just because of the breadth of work that went into it (so much work) and its modern aesthetic (so pretty). What I love is its configurability. In less than an hour I can configure our mobile application to provide all sorts of useful experiences. For instance…

  • To help a patient remember all their pills in complex, changing treatment regimens
  • To assist a patient in following all the steps in administering their own injection
  • To remind an aging product manager to take his morning medication

It was on that last bullet I realized I had the best opportunity I’d ever have to share my work with someone who doesn’t truly understand it – my wife.

The toughest crowd

More than 264 million people suffer from depression worldwide. My wife and I, at various points, are among them. Her road has been far more difficult than mine, and I’m amazed at her strength and determination.

Years ago, when she first saw how the AiCure app helps remind people to take their medication and offer study teams and caregivers peace of mind knowing it was taken correctly, she could understand the utility for others. But it simply wasn’t something she was interested in for herself. She’s always been very responsible with her treatment, taking medication as prescribed on time every day, and talking openly to her doctors about how things are progressing.

Three years later, I found myself wondering if this new Patient Connect app had anything to offer her. Could it support her? Could it help me support her better? Could it help us both learn something along the way? Could I build an experience she’d actually want to use?

A warning: this gets mushy….

If you are interested in the experience I built for her, I’ve posted a video of her morning dose below. This is a dosing flow created just for her morning medication. I even recorded my own voice. It’s a little sappy.

Was that interesting? Maybe?

Does any of this have applicability in a clinical trial? Frankly, I don’t know. When part of your work is controlling variables, you need to be very careful about making things too personal and custom. That said, I can’t help but think there are things in there to think about….

  • Medication monitoring need not be cumbersome. Unlike patients in a trial, when I set this up I didn’t even know what medication my wife was taking. I just had her text me a picture of her morning meds and used that. While her use of the app will tell me if she took her medication, it isn’t my primary concern. AiCure has done a tremendous amount of work using AI for step-by step pill detection and ingestion monitoring. We can provide a level of adherence certainty that no other solution on the market offers. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. Sometimes just knowing they took medication is enough.
  • To support someone, you need to know they need help. My wife and I have oodles of responsibilities and two youngish kids. Sometimes she needs my help and I know she won’t always ask me for it. Now, when she responds to the post dose questionnaire with the answer “I need extra support today” an email alert is sent to me. Clinical trial patients are no different. Some won’t want to bother their doctors with questions. Some will only report side effects at their next in-person clinic visit (if they remember them at all). Capturing information is useful but acting on it is impactful.
  • Giving back. Like many with anxiety, good sleep can be hard to come by, but incredibly important. So, I added a questionnaire with a sleep log so we could look back in a few months for trends. She doesn’t have to answer it. I certainly can’t force her to do it. But knowing this log will give her back a history was motivating for her. Clinical trials need to find more ways to give back to those patients contributing their time and effort. This is an area that patient advocacy groups have highlighted for years, and I think about this often when it comes to ways of improving Patient Connect moving forward.

What I am doing with my life, revisited

I think my wife is one step closer to understanding. And I think writing this blog has helped me as well. I’m trying really hard to have an impact. And the greatest impact I can probably have right now, in my current role, is working hard to make the patient experience of a clinical trial more manageable. Not just because it will get our clients better data, or retain quality participants… But because these patients are all wives, friends, and father in-laws too. Life is hard enough for them without managing a disease or participating in a clinical trial.

The least we ought to do is make their experience as easy and helpful as we can.