Digital technology opens possibilities for ophthalmic treatment “Present and future of ophthalmic treatment” series

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Effectively developing ophthalmic treatment requires utilizing digital technology. Digital technology is the key to achieving a world where everyone can receive appropriate medical care with optimal timing, developing ophthalmic ecosystems, and further evolving Santen's activities. This issue's special feature will explore the possibilities of digital technology.

A changing healthcare industry – Providing value through experiences as well as medicines

In the medical industry, the value of products and services has long been measured based on their therapeutic effects. However, medical products and services are now starting to be evaluated according to the kinds of experiences users can have and the value they find in the products and services, that is, the quality of the experiences those products and services provide for users. Important in terms of ophthalmic treatment is how you can best be close to the lives of patients and satisfy their needs, as well as how you can help improve their eye symptoms.

Against this background, many healthcare companies have striven to go beyond the conventional boundaries of “medication” in providing their products and services in the different phases of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. With a variety of IT companies entering the healthcare market one after another, digital technology is now being used in a variety of ways, from electronic health records and optical coherence tomography (OCT) through remote monitoring of patients with an implanted pacemaker and diabetes management software to health promotion services using smartphones and mobile apps. In this situation, pharmaceutical companies are also initiating efforts to create new value based on state-of-the-art technologies in collaboration with companies in non-pharmaceutical industries, including IT companies with AI technology, companies with gene analysis technology, and entertainment content providers.

Using digital technology accelerates ecosystem development

In the ophthalmic field too, digital technology immensely helps provide patients with appropriate treatment with optimal timing. For example, in regions and countries where few patients have easy access to information about ophthalmic treatment and heightened awareness of eye health, a possible effective solution to this situation may be providing disease information through digital media to share knowledge about eye diseases and raise disease awareness among patients. In addition, online remote-medication services may be a good solution to poor access for patients to ophthalmic treatment due to physical distance to medical institutions, high medical costs, and other factors, despite their serious concern about their own eye health. Other examples of the use of digital technology include online appointment systems aimed at reducing and managing patients' wait times, and applications designed to help patients continue receiving treatment.

Digital technology also facilitates ecosystem development. In a society where the development of an ophthalmic ecosystem is still underway, people cannot fully enjoy the value of ophthalmic treatment due to the lack of information about such treatment, the shortage of medical institutions and medical staff, and the poor quality of diagnosis and treatment. Resolving such a situation has so far taken a very long time and required heavy investment in establishing tangible and intangible medical infrastructure: more specifically, ensuring that all stakeholders, including government and medical institutions, can understand the importance of ophthalmic treatment and raise patients' awareness of treatment for their diseases; and establishing hospitals or clinics in relevant areas and then sending or training medical professionals there.

However, using digital technology will make it possible to replace conventional infrastructure and connect people directly to medical treatment, as well as help develop ophthalmic ecosystems faster and more efficiently. For example, being able to remotely share the latest medical technology around the world would help accelerate the efforts of doctors in remote areas to increase their skills. Furthermore, a medical-data network between various organizations involved in treating patients, such as medical institutions, medical examination centers, and pharmacies, would help dramatically increase the quality and productivity of diagnosis and treatment.

Digital technology is also transforming Santen's activities

Santen has also launched efforts to utilize digital technology. In January 2020, Santen entered into a partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and decided to support Be He@lthy, Be Mobile, a digital health initiative set up jointly by the ITU and the WHO. Moreover, in September 2020, Santen has established a joint venture company with Verily Life Sciences LLC, a life sciences subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. We aim to create new solutions that help increase patients' quality of life by combining such partners' high level of expertise in digital technology with Santen's great expertise in the ophthalmic field.

Digital technology not only helps dramatically evolve our activities but also assumes an important role in supporting the evolution of ophthalmic treatment. Santen will contribute to the future of ophthalmology by leveraging digital technology while creating value for the patient's quality experience.