PharmExec Blog

Cracking the Adherence Nut: Drug Delivery

Chris Evans, West Pharmaceutical Services, and Ed Geiselhart, Insight Product Development, consider the importance of drug delivery systems in facilitating patient adherence.

No two patients are alike, but drug-makers may not consider how different a single patient’s perspective can be when viewed over time. A patient’s progress through disease management is a journey, and perceptions change over time. Changes in perceptions influence the meaning of “usability” and can have tremendous implications for how a drug delivery system supports the patient. To understand this concept better, consider two different points during the patient journey – a newly diagnosed patient and a patient further along with their condition – as examples of how different usage must influence the design of a drug’s delivery system.

The New Patient: Struggling to Adapt and Learn
Early on, patients who use delivery systems in their medical therapy struggle to cope with significant life disruptions. They often do not feel very well physically. Emotionally, they may be fluctuating between fear, anger and deep concern or depression. At the start of their disease management journey, these patients are asked to take on new responsibilities for their condition, learn new and sometimes difficult tasks, and become experts in managing parts of their disease, such as administering their own medication.

What does this mean for a drug company? Ease of use is a critical consideration; pharma should ensure that drug delivery requires as few steps as possible, guaranteeing that users can learn, remember and quickly master the process. Especially for the newly diagnosed, drug delivery devices need to provide clear, absolute confirmation that they were used properly, and that the medicine was successfully delivered. Any ambiguity heightens patient anxiety and will leave them questioning whether they received the proper dose. Such anxiety can lead to overdosing and create doubt that the device – and the drug – is trustworthy or effective, which quickly erodes adherence.

For a patient in an early stage, “ease of use” should translate to “ease of training.” With the rise of biologic therapies, patients rely on the support of healthcare practitioners and family to learn how to self-inject, for example, as they acclimate. Optimizing a drug for both self-administration and demonstration means manufacturers need to carefully consider how humans learn, and the differences between processing information by watching others, versus doing things ourselves. Failing to support these early stage requirements can lead patients to abandon therapies before they even have a chance to take hold.

Further Along: Staying Faithful
Later in the disease management journey, patients return to a more stable condition and reasonable quality of life. They have mastered their drug regimen and delivery system – but now the patient is more demanding of how the device supports quality of life. Reduced anxiety makes room for motivations based on convenience and the confidence that “I have this disease under control – at least for today.” As patients settle into this “new normal,” such attitudes can lead to skipped doses and lapses in adherence, often throttling the patient back to a state where the disease manifests itself more seriously.

At this point, the delivery system needs to not only continue to support efficiency with minimal steps, but also, and for different reasons, it must be designed based on convenience and lifestyle enhancement. Patient feedback must be considered differently and used to select a delivery design that encourages and incentivizes patients to remain adherent. For instance, compliance metrics, goal-oriented achievements or physiological measures might be tracked in order to encourage adherence, helping patients control their disease and improve their condition.

The Journey Determines Everything
Realizing that patients are on an ongoing journey is an important step in understanding the complexities behind how user-centered design can support adherence. Armed with this awareness, pharmaceutical companies are better enabled to select and develop safe, reliable and desirable drug delivery solutions.  These considerations can help to address the shifting nature of what usability means for any type of patient we may become, while traveling on our individual disease management journey.

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