Guest Column | May 10, 2021

How To Maximize Medical Device Patient Retention

By Teresa McArthur and Belinda Matthews, Cecelia Health


The accelerated shift to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic has given patients greater autonomy. However, this benefit is not without its challenges, particularly for patients who use medical devices at home to manage chronic health conditions. These difficulties revolve around three common areas:  

  1. Onboarding a patient to a new medical device
  2. Efficiency for patients and providers
  3. Continuous monitoring

Left unresolved, these issues inevitably cause poor patient retention for medical device companies. Fortunately, the pandemic has presented new opportunities to remedy these issues by harnessing the power of telehealth. 

Develop A Comprehensive “New Device Onboarding” Process

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, medical device companies provided in-person training to patients and clinic staff. Often, patients would schedule an appointment if they had device-related concerns, such as getting started or uploading data. However, this traditional model burdened the patient-provider relationship in two ways:

  1. Clinics, already busy with appointments, had the additional responsibility of helping patients with device training and onboarding. Consequently, patients had to rely on their providers for device management, rather than feeling empowered through device self-management. This strain on providers intensified during the pandemic, during which many providers shifted to delivering virtual support.
  2. During the pandemic, patients expressed gaps in knowledge, frustration, and anxiety regarding the onboarding process. Although medical device companies had promoted ease of use, patients found installation and data upload more complex than they originally expected. As a result, they felt compelled to stop using the device altogether.

You must prioritize comprehensive onboarding that begins before the patient even receives the product. Below are two ways to accomplish this. 

1. Adopt A Visual Learning Strategy

When the pandemic began, the industry saw a surge in demand for remote training, as patients expressed frustration with setting up their devices on their own. Don’t underestimate the value of visual learning. Patients need to see how to operate their device, whether it's in a video or with detailed pictures in a manual. For videos, consider enlisting “brand ambassadors,” or real-life individuals who have used the device to manage their health condition. Patients are more likely to connect with others who use the same device and can show what it is like in real life to set up.

2. Set Expectations Before Device Arrival

No matter the benefits of a new medical device, it still represents a change in how the patient manages their chronic condition. Therefore, the patient may feel apprehensive about getting started. Their provider — who probably already has their own device preferences — may be wary of whether the new device will actually help their patient or only cause more hardship. For these reasons, it’s imperative that both patients and providers know what to expect from a new medical device before it’s even shipped. This preliminary time investment on your part will help ease the learning curve that is bound to occur as the patient and provider interact with the new device. It also increases patient perception of your brand, which ultimately boosts patient loyalty.

Consider developing one-on-one coaching relationships between clinicians and each patient. Since the clinicians and patients will be in touch regularly, clinicians will get to know their patients’ health as well as their lifestyles and any barriers to self-care that could impact their device usage and lead to user retention issues. Help patients and providers understand which devices may work best for certain individuals. Further, guide them through a new device’s features to demonstrate its value in managing their condition. Consider doing this “side by side” with each individual via video calls, phone calls, screenshots sent via email, viewing together and then talking through websites and videos developed by device manufacturers, or any other channels the patient finds most comfortable, depending on what is most helpful to the patient’s understanding. As a result of this approach, there are significant benefits for all parties involved: patients improve their condition’s self-management and health outcomes, while medical device companies triple their average annual ROI.

Ensure Efficiency For Patients And Providers

Many medical device brands promote easy setup, but it’s just as important to prioritize efficiency — that is, saving time and effort — during device usage (e.g., uploading device data). The recent shift toward telemedicine highlights two opportunities for medical device companies to improve efficiency. 

1. Make Bluetooth Technology The New Standard

Missing device data often stems from patients not having the required equipment or software to connect their device (for example, wrong cables or missing application). As a result, during a telehealth visit with their physician, they may feel unprepared and overwhelmed. In addition, they’re at risk for suboptimal care as the physician does not have the data needed to best manage their chronic condition. Wasting valuable time with a physician on technical troubleshooting is suboptimal for both patient and provider – while creating a negative impression of the medical device as well. The more often patients encounter these particular challenges, the less they feel compelled to use the device.

Help patients navigate connectivity issues by helping them acquire the tools they need, including:

  • Figuring out the source of potential connectivity issues
  • Helping select the right cables or connectors
  • Setting up software on their personal computer or app on their phone
  • Navigating their personal device in order to use the app
  • Troubleshooting the data upload process

Consider implementing increased connectivity, such as Bluetooth technology and cloud syncing, in your medical devices so that patients can upload and share data easily and quickly. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate to patients and providers that you stand behind the meaning of “ease of use.”

2. Enhance The Customer Service Experience

When a device alarms or malfunctions, patients and providers want swift and concise solutions. In this case, one way to help users is to utilize videos with time-stamp chapters that allow them to fast-forward to the information they’re looking for. Being able to direct a patient to a specific video can decrease frustration and provide quick guidance on how to handle the situation they are presented with. Having to skim through long videos without time-stamp chapters can be time consuming and frustrating and even more so when they have to look through a manual to find an answer. It comes down to saving time and decreasing frustration while providing clear answers.

Look for ways to engage patients and providers within the device ecosystem whenever possible. Adding an easy way to contact someone for help could be the difference between a healthy, loyal customer and someone who gets frustrated and does not continue with their care management plan.

Additionally, take advantage of nontraditional forms of communication to meet patients where they are. These channels — including text messaging, social media, and email — allow you to provide customer follow-up, notifications, and links to visually appealing how-to guides. The “one size fits all” approach is no longer effective in a highly personalized world, so creating educational content tailored specifically to each channel of communication becomes increasingly important. Not all individuals are on social media or would seek out a tutorial video on YouTube. Switching to step-by-step instructions via telephone or text message ensures they are still able to get the information they need to continue using their device optimally.

Remember that along with wanting easy-to-use devices, patients and providers usually scrutinize the level of support they receive from their medical device company.

Monitor Patients Consistently To Build Trust

For a medical device company to truly retain a new patient, you must demonstrate value over time. This is no simple feat and certainly cannot be accomplished over one training session or sporadic follow-up calls. In fact, research shows that after one day of learning something new, humans typically only retain 33% of what they learned. Patients need repetitive experiences with a medical device in order to feel confident enough to manage it on their own. Give patient multiple personalized remote coaching sessions over their most critical period — the first three to six months. You’ll see positive results doing this.

By employing consistent monitoring and coaching, medical device companies can produce the following outcomes: 

  • Patients feel knowledgeable about their condition and know what actions to take, based on the device data. 
  • Patients feel supported in overcoming any barriers to optimal disease management. 
  • Patients feel empowered to foster positive relationships with their providers and make wiser health decisions.

Medical device companies now have unprecedented opportunities to enhance the telemedicine experience for patients and providers. By improving new device onboarding, efficiency, and monitoring, you can maximize patient retention, earn physician confidence, and boost ROI.

About The Authors:

TeresaTeresa McArthur is the senior vice president of clinical services at Cecelia Health. She is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist, with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition. She has experience working with diabetes, health and wellness, nutrition support, weight, and chronic disease management. She has worked in various capacities including higher education, long-term acute care, critical care, community nutrition, and inpatient and outpatient accredited diabetes management programs. She works with patients to identify specific barriers and set realistic and sustainable goals.

BelindaBelinda Matthews is a senior clinical director at Cecelia Health. She is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist. She is also certified as a trainer for insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. When working with individuals living with diabetes, she strives to empower them with tools they need to reach their goals. She understands there are many facets to managing diabetes and feels the key is to work with their current lifestyle and provide small steps to achieve their health, medication, and fitness goals.