HIT Perspectives – August 2022
Paying Attention to “What’s Next” in Health Tech: Life Sciences Companies Are Poised to Drive Change
By Rob Dribbon, Senior Consultant
Innovations in healthcare rarely happen overnight. If anything, the industry has become known for the glacial pace at which substantial change is made. Reacting and adjusting business models, clinical protocols and workflows, product strategies and bottom-line expectations to those changes can take some health care organizations years – a span of time, in other words, which could extend well beyond patients’ treatment timeframes.
Consider, for example, innovations like telemedicine. Diagnosis by telephone was conceptualized in an 1879 edition of The Lancet, just three years after the first phone call was made. Fast forward to today (nearly 150 years later), and on-demand virtual visits via smartphones can be had in a matter of minutes. Then, there is the developing field of digital therapeutics. Medication adherence can now be monitored with ingestible pills equipped with sensors that transmit health data to a corresponding patient-facing app and provider-facing web portal. The first smart pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration came on the market in 2017 after years of development and millions in funding. Time will tell if adoption of these types of digital therapeutics will translate to improved adherence and outcomes.
Time, of course, is always of the essence in healthcare, and while adapting to change has historically been done in a “hurry up and wait” manner, the pandemic has proven that, when necessary, change can happen more quickly than anticipated. Companies in the business of healthcare, particularly those in the life sciences space, have over the past several years seen first-hand how much impact can be had when a business pays attention to what’s coming and adapts to accommodate its customers’ needs. (Anyone else remember the breweries and distilleries that pivoted to the manufacture of hand sanitizer in the uncertain initial days of COVID?)
There are also moments when acceleration of progress isn’t just the result of one massive external force like a pandemic but rather the culmination of work across the industry in combination with policy and external factors creating a watershed period. What we are experiencing today was brought on by the combination and alignment of standards work, innovation in technology, new policy and an influx of activity in response to the pandemic. As such technologies relatively new to healthcare as application programming interfaces (APIs), blockchain and other real-world examples of interoperability are making an impact on burden reduction, cost transparency and patient empowerment, it is more important than ever to monitor and understand what these developments mean to stakeholders across the healthcare system.
Taking the Lead by Looking Ahead
Life sciences companies would do well to monitor evolving industry trends so they can be prepared to adapt their products and services to accommodate the clamor their customers will have for trend-inspired and/or -necessitated solutions. Those who keep their finger on the pulse of “what’s next” will be better positioned to incorporate nascent innovations into their existing product lines – perhaps even first to acquire, develop or drive adoption of healthcare technologies that may ultimately prove game changing for patients.
“Futurist” may be too strong a word, but it’s a title that evokes the role of a forward-thinking, forward-looking strategist; someone who continually looks beyond shiny new objects to the impact they might have on healthcare when combined with other forces at play; i.e., seeing the television as a video connection to a physician (rather than as a medium through which to display programming and ads), as two Nebraska-based hospitals 112 miles apart did in 1948.
Whether it’s a single person, department or brand team or a holistic strategy woven into the mission statement of every department, monitoring healthcare trends will afford a life sciences company the ability to take advantage of market opportunities before their competitors, enabling them to take the industry lead in developing the trend into a beneficial solution for payers, providers and patients.
Key Questions to Ask Now
With all these currents of activity, to what should one company pay attention? The answer, of course, is relative. Ideally, a life sciences company should filter innovation trends through the funnel/lens of its product road map. Key, initial questions to ask could include:
- How could a burgeoning trend potentially affect the way we deliver a product or service three to five years from now?
- How can we get ahead of this trend so our products and services reflect the pervasiveness of offerings this trend will inspire?
- How well equipped are we to begin addressing the changes this trend could initiate on our side of the healthcare industry?
- Whom within our company do we need to invite to this process so we’re collaborating rather than operating in a vacuum?
- Should we consider taking advantage of outside expertise to help identify and act on trends, especially if they aren’t within our domains of expertise or we lack the bandwidth at this particular time?
- Are there opportunities for us to help shape where the industry is going by engaging with standards development organizations or other multi-stakeholder groups to provide perspective and insight into key issues affecting life sciences companies that could be addressed through technology (e.g., joining HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources accelerators like the Da Vinci Project or Communities of Practice)?
Trends Worth Watching
When it comes to monitoring healthcare trends, it’s easy to drink from the firehose and wind up soaked. Point-of-Care Partners has identified seven that sit under the larger, overarching trend of interoperability.
- Prior Authorization: Automated prior authorization leveraging interoperable systems between providers, payers and pharmacists has the potential to improve time to treatment and outcomes for patients, physician and patient satisfaction, and payer workflow efficiencies.
- Clinical Trials: Life sciences companies looking to better acquaint the market with their products, especially those hard-to-access specialty medications geared toward the sickest patients, must keep an eye on the ways in which interoperability is helping to surface patient trial opportunities through electronic health record (EHR) integrations. With certain technologies, physicians no longer need to leave a clinical workflow to learn of potential treatment programs for their patients – a boon for physicians treating patients in rural areas who may not have access to clinical trials traditionally accessible only through major metropolitan health care systems. The news of Epic customer Walgreens launching its own clinical trials business should perk up the ears of any life sciences company eager to join the industry-wide effort to improve health equity.
- Population health: Interoperable systems give healthcare stakeholders the ability to access and analyze data flowing through multiple EHR systems, in turn giving providers better tools with which to identify and manage groups of patients – previously hard-to-identify patient groups poised to greatly benefit from a life sciences company’s therapeutic.
- Clinical data exchange: A better understanding of the way in which interoperable systems can aggregate and analyze patient-reported data (gleaned from wearables, patient-facing apps, remote patient monitoring programs, etc.) can help life sciences companies better understand how to inform providers and patients about their products and services. As interoperable systems give patients more opportunities to share and access their own data, new opportunities are opening up for life sciences companies to provide additional context for certain disease states and treatments.
- Medication adherence: Insight into a patient’s medication adherence – either through the aforementioned smart pills or the more likely method of provider- and/or payer-shared data – can lead to insight into non-adherence and the development of more personalized patient education and engagement materials.
- Price/cost transparency: As federal enforcement of new hospital price transparency rules ramps up and state and regional lawmakers begin to crack down on “bad billing” from bad actors that have left patients with crippling debt, it becomes even more imperative that every participant along the healthcare continuum understands and shares the impact pricing has on patient ability to access treatments.
Health equity: The desire to improve access to care for patients living in rural and underserved areas has begun to pervade every healthcare trend, including those mentioned above. As EHR organizations continue to bring to market technologies focused on physical/behavioral care and social determinants of health, healthcare stakeholders are becoming increasingly aware of the need to share data to better provide holistic, rather than episodic, care so patients from all walks of life have access to the preventive care and services they need.
Failure to Act Will Lead to Innovation Stagnation
Each of these trends will impact life sciences companies to some degree. (It’s worth noting that all of them are likely already impacting life sciences’ customers.) It’s up to the individual business to gauge just how much time and attention should be paid to a specific trend or group of trends. One thing is certain: failure to identify, analyze and act on healthcare trends will leave a life sciences company behind in the marketplace, potentially unable to effect change for the good of patients, customers and shareholders alike.
It is also important to note that there are many opportunities for life sciences companies and other stakeholders to engage with standards development organizations and other multi-stakeholder groups to impact the development of health information technology (health IT) standards and policy. It is often thought that only software developers can participate in standards development, but that would exclude the valuable, real-world perspectives of those people and organizations experiencing issues such as lack of access to or poor quality of data. So, it’s critical for business leaders from various stakeholder groups, especially life sciences, to provide their insights in creating realistic use cases that will lead to positive change.
Interoperable technologies abound. Health data are flowing, even to patients. Regulatory changes are underway. All of this has prompted a more frenetic pace in healthcare trends. Pandemic and post-pandemic innovations have shown that healthcare business models and practices can turn on at least a quarter, if not a dime. Perhaps the traditional snail’s pace of healthcare is beginning to accelerate. Life sciences companies should be ready and waiting to aid and abet the trajectory of trends that will shake up care delivery models and clinical outcomes.
Getting a handle on relevant health IT activities and their potential impact or underlying opportunities for life sciences companies can be a tall order. If your organization could use some guidance, contact me to schedule a discussion at firstname.lastname@example.org.