Medication adherence programs using gamification, rewards, and other positive digital strategies have been implemented across a wide diversity of chronic conditions, most commonly diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and acne. But one major disease category that pharmaceutical industry hesitation has prevented patients from participating: oncology.
Little argument can be made that medication adherence rates may be higher, generally speaking, in oncology compared to other common primary care conditions such as hyperlipidemia and hypertension, but most experts would agree that in oncology an adherence rate of 80% is not a sufficient target as may be the case with a statin. Given that better adherence means better drug efficacy and treatment success, programs designed to push adherence closer to 100% in oncology can contribute to increased survival and quality of life. Furthermore, as cancer patients’ outcomes improve, cancer itself may become a chronic condition where maintaining adherence improves quality of life. And yet, the pharmaceutical industry has shied away from using positive and engaging tactics (such as gamification and rewards) to support their patients.
Would Cancer Patients Use Rewards-Based Programs?
Recently, our company partnered with WEGO Health to understand more if—and why—cancer patients would value and find appropriate a medication adherence program that used gamification and rewards. All told, we asked eight patient influencers, with various types of cancers, what they thought about using these novel patient engagement strategies to provide medication adherence support for oncology patients.
We asked the group their opinions about a rewards-based patient support approach in which cancer patients would earn points and prizes for engaging in certain online medication-related activities. They told us:
- Different elements of rewards-based activities appeal to some patients and not to others, but they understand they can choose to focus on their favorite elements and ignore others. For instance, providing a leaderboard competition was appealing to one respondent as a “very needed perk for you to try to brighten your day,” whereas another influencer felt it would turn patients off because they aren’t competing against others with cancer; they are competing against cancer itself.
- Several influencers noted the importance of cancer patients having a program and activities that rewarded them to learn more about their disease and their medication. As one influencer said, “You probably need these perks or benefits … for you to become better educated about your condition. A lot of these cancer conditions, the medications, and just learning about it are pretty difficult … I think this could totally help a lot of patients and benefit them throughout their day.”
- When it came to providing rewards for engagement and adhering to their medication, our influencers spoke not only to the rewards themselves, but also to the human psychology behind why rewards would be motivating. As one said, “when you’re battling any disease, whether that’s cancer or another disease, I think this would be just another reason to stay on top of your health. I think it would absolutely be something well received in the community.”
- One patient influencer raised an important point that is particularly relevant in oncology: Where a patient is in their cancer journey may influence their interest or lack of interest in such a program. This viewpoint reflects the obvious need to consider programs on a case-by-case basis depending upon disease specifics and the affected patient population.
There’s still more to learn, especially in the realm of specific engagement activities and rewards that our influencers shared with us. For cancer patients, taking medication as prescribed can be very difficult due to the physical and psychological side effects of specific drugs. The complexities and rigors of certain regimens often require ongoing education, management, and support from their physicians, nurses, caregivers, and pharmacy. Now and into the post-COVID-19 future, with a sharply decreased volume of in-person appointments, telemedicine and digital engagement activities arguably are more of a must-have rather than simply a nice-to-have as an extension of traditional care when it comes to ongoing adherence.
As one influencer told us: “Everyone can use help along the way and cancer patients, just like people that have chronic conditions like asthma or COPD, can benefit from an app to help them learn about the medicines, to have an education tool, to have a place to track their medicines, to get rewarded for filling their prescription.”