Digital health: Empowering patients to take control of their health

Maturin Tchoumi

Managing Director at Roche Finland

Digital health: Empowering patients to take control of their health

30 June 2021 | 8min

Quick Takes

  • Digital tools have played a vital role in ensuring continuum of care during the pandemic

  • Smart technologies are improving outcomes and boosting patients’ quality of life

  • Global Digital Health Industry could see expenditure hit $1 trillion USD by 2030

Digital Health is one of the hottest trends in the healthcare space, but will it make a meaningful difference to patient outcomes and address inefficiencies in healthcare systems? 

Kate Dion, healthcare industry observer and Value Communications Lead for 3D Communications, sat down for a (virtual) conversation with Maturin Tchoumi, the head of Roche Finland’s Pharma division, to find out why he thinks Digital Health holds so much promise and how the pharmaceutical  and diagnostic industries can contribute to the digital health revolution.

Digital disruption connects

“I’m a runner. I run nearly every morning before work. And I track all of my runs with my watch. I want to understand my pace, how it compares to other runs, and how I can get better,” Maturin Tchoumi, General Manager of Roche Pharma in Finland, tells me as we talk on a Zoom call one Friday afternoon. 

Maturin is in Finland, I am in Scotland, but digital technology makes it feel like we are a mere (socially distanced) two meters apart from each other. 

I admire his sleek (real) Zoom-call background, and his ambition to become even faster. I also admire his commitment to running almost every day before work.

But we’re not meeting to discuss Maturin’s fitness regime. We’re meeting because I want to learn more about whether the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries can help to improve patient outcomes by embracing digital tools. There’s been an explosion of digitisation in healthcare since the pandemic, but I find much of the rhetoric a little vague. Beyond the concept of telehealth consultations with my GP, which basically seems to mean talking to her on the phone rather than in person, I am not really sure whether Digital Health is living up to all the hype.

“Digital Health has always been around, but things have really ramped up because of all the disruption that COVID-19 has caused. And this doesn’t just apply to health. Whether it’s shopping or education or in the workplace, digital tools have really helped us to continue to function throughout the pandemic,” Maturin says. 

Transforming healthcare delivery 

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“Digital technology has in many cases helped to ensure a continuum of care and service. And we have seen how these digital technologies can make services better. We really shouldn’t lose these opportunities. We need to learn how to transform healthcare delivery. Of course, it goes without saying that no-one can do this alone. We need to work with everyone else, who is on the same journey,” he says.

I press Maturin for specifics. He immediately reels off several examples of how digital technology is making the lives of patients and physicians easier. He begins by pointing out to the lung cancer cases where Digital Patient Monitoring can facilitate outpatient symptom detection and improve clinical practice, patient quality of life and health benefits.1

“Before the pandemic, patients were having to come into clinics to be monitored. Now, thanks to better use of digital tools, they don’t have to systematically do this. This is really improving their quality of life. Another example from Finland, is that of brain surgeons at Helsinki University Hospital (HUS), one of Europe’s largest healthcare providers. They are now using Microsoft Teams to connect and even examine brain scans remotely, which means they can discuss and make decisions much more quickly. 

“Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, doctors in one of the country’s biggest hospitals have teamed up with ChipSoft to ensure patients are still able to consult with physicians despite the widespread disruption caused by COVID-19. In Italy, doctors are using artificial intelligence to predict which patients are likely to be most affected by COVID-19, which is allowing them to make more informed decisions about how to manage resources. And we are also seeing the emergence of apps that are helping to improve adherence to care for chronic diseases, such as diabetes,” Maturin says.

A recent study published in the NCBI2 showed that a majority of patients had a positive experience of so-called video visits from their physicians because they did not have to miss work, travel or wait for their appointments. They were also able to avoid the issues of transportation costs, finding childcare or having to overcome physical disabilities so that they could attend an appointment.

The global Digital Health industry, which is expected to see expenditure hit $1 trillion in 2030,3 has grown steadily in recent years as consumers have flocked to new products, such as wearables, to track their daily health and fitness goals. In 2019, 42 percent of Americans reported using Digital Health tracking,4 while a survey carried out by Statista has shown that European health professionals expect that the use of patient-owned health data will be the biggest e-health trend in the coming years.4

“The most exciting part for me is that we are empowering the patient. We may well end up in a situation where the patient has the same knowledge about what’s going on as their healthcare provider,” Maturin says.

Industry’s role in the digitalization of healthcare 

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Still, I am unclear as to what role the global pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries will play in this digitally-savvy world. 

“We’re part of the whole healthcare ecosystem. We don’t see ourselves only as a manufacturer and supplier of medicines and diagnostic services. Our role is much broader than that. We need to play an active part in making sure the system remains sustainable and that patients are getting the care they deserve. Digital Health can help transform healthcare delivery and ensure sustainability of the system,” Maturin says. 

Several drug companies have been working with key external stakeholders, including Google and Microsoft, in countries around the world to understand how each one operates and what needs to happen in order to accelerate the uptake of Digital Health tools and technologies.

“One of the first things we have done is to identify how and if countries are using Digital Health technologies, and what it is we can do to bridge the gaps. We have looked at some fundamental elements, such as the ability to capture health information digitally; whether information is available in Electronic Health Records (EHR) and is accessible by all care teams; whether this information is integrated into the care pathway; and the interoperability of systems between different care domains,” Maturin says.

Maturin and his team have found that, unsurprisingly, Nordic countries are the most advanced, largely thanks to their legacy expertise in engineering driven by companies such as Ericsson and Nokia, while other countries, like Ireland, are lagging.

“The Nordics have had EHRs for a decade, but countries like Ireland have the opportunity to leapfrog because the technology has advanced so much,” Maturin says.

“Each country needs to understand what stage it’s at and develop a national strategy to advance digital care. We see ourselves as enablers. We understand that what patients need next goes beyond pills and diagnostic services. We want to work with others to create value and to be the architects of a system that will make sure medicines and diagnostic services reach patients when they need them,” he tells me.

New mindset for a new era

Going beyond the pill also means embracing a new mindset and new ways of working, I discover.

“We need to work fast, so we are empowering those in the organisation who are closest to the system. In the past we used to work for the healthcare professional, now we are working with the healthcare professional. This is an important difference. Put simply, we are developing the mindsets, skills and expertise that are required to build systems that are fit for the current and future demands being placed upon them,” Maturin says.

But in the highly regulated healthcare industry, it’s vital that the makers of medicines and diagnostic services ensure quality of care and patient safety. “Our licence to operate hangs on this,” he says. “We understand we must balance the need for stability with the need for flexibility”. 

Advancing access beyond Europe

Maturin, who is originally from Cameroon, believes digital tools could help address the challenge of healthcare access in parts of the world that have less advanced healthcare systems, such as Africa. 

“The advantage of Digital Health is that it could help to erase the infrastructure barriers. Digital Health helped the advanced world to continue delivering health during the pandemic so I could imagine that it could help some countries to improve the healthcare they are able to provide for their citizens,” he says.

“We have already seen how so many people across Africa are using mobile phones to do all of their banking. If someone can trust their phone to transfer their money, they should also trust it with their most important asset – their health,” he says. 

Ultimately for Maturin it’s all about making sure people have the information they need to manage their own health properly. 

“Every day, I’m using my digital watch to gain key insights into my health and to improve my fitness so that I stay healthy. This puts me in control of my health. I want others to have access to their own health data so that they can also take greater care of themselves and their families, and live healthier, happier lives. This is only possible through smarter and more effective use of digital technology” he says.

“We need to make sure Digital Health technologies are embedded into patient care pathways and the way healthcare providers practice medicine. We’re just at the start of our marathon, and I’ll be tracking our performance every step of the way,” Maturin says as we wind up our conversation.

We say (and wave) goodbye. I look down at my own digital watch. Not enough steps today. I need more of Maturin’s drive. I hazard a guess that many healthcare systems may also need more of Maturin’s commitment, and certainly his vision.

Maturin Tchoumi currently heads up the Roche Pharma organization in Finland. He began his career at Roche as a Market Research Assistant in the Ivory Coast. A native Cameroonian, he has seen and experienced first-hand the energy emanating from the vast continent of Africa. Every day, he taps into his passion to drive internal and external partnerships that create tangible results and outcomes for everyone working in the healthcare system as well as for those receiving care from our doctors and nurses. Throughout his 30-year career, Maturin has always looked forward as he has sought to deliver relevant and impactful results for the Roche internal organization as well as the external environment. Maturin works collaboratively with others to determine the most meaningful ways of ensuring patients achieve the outcomes that matter most to them. His goal is simple, but ambitious: to find new ways of building healthcare systems that are ready for the demands of tomorrow.