CES 2021: The digital health revolution and what pharma should know
By Alex Kareotes, director of media and innovation at Intouch Solutions
It’s no surprise that this year’s fully virtual CES shined a bright and hopeful spotlight on the future of digital health. Over three days, the mega-tech conference packed over 39-plus sessions on digital health, led by industry leaders across healthcare and tech companies, providers, consultants, and payers.
Undoubtedly, there is optimism across the industry that we are in the midst of a digital health revolution, accelerated by COVID-19, and the landscape will transform over the next several years. Take today’s current patient experience: it’s beyond fragmented – requiring the need to access information across doctor portals, insurance/pharmacy portals, HSA/FSA logins, consumer apps … the list goes on. The current system is focused on ‘sick care’ and chronic diseases, instead of extended health and wellbeing. “What we’ve learned in the past year is how much of the healthcare system is focused on late-stage disease. When it comes to prevention, there are crickets in the structure,” said Deneen Vojta, executive VP of United Healthcare. Deneen shared the promise of digital health: finally having the data to realize facilitated self-service, improved outcomes, and a decrease in overall costs to the healthcare system.
“COVID-19 is not only accelerating telemedicine, it’s enabling a new, more direct care model.” – Aloha Mcbride, Global Health Leader, Ernst & Young
So what does this future look like, and how can pharma stay innovative within this ever-evolving landscape? Here are a few top takeaways from this year’s digital health track at CES.
Care will take place virtually anywhere
Instead of being confined to a medical center, care will conveniently take place at home. We’ve already seen this transformation at the onset of the pandemic, but new technologies will serve as a catalyst for increased telemedicine usage, enabling vitals collection, labs, and even diagnostics in a virtual environment. According to an EY survey, more than 80 percent of physicians believe that patient care will involve a mix of face-to-face consultation and teleconferencing in the United States over the next decade. This acceleration in telemedicine has also paved the way for companies that are creating innovative, end-to-end healthcare experiences for consumers, including Hers, Roman, and Done.
It’s important that brands consistently evaluate their customer journeys in the context of a telehealth environment. In some categories where appropriate, pharma can offer patients a telemedicine experience, enabling a bridge on their Brand.com directly to Rx.
The patient experience is rooted firmly in the center and is empowered by data
New technologies and remote monitoring tools will enable continuous omni-present systems, powered by AI, which will lead to patients having actionable insights they can use to improve health outcomes and share with their HCPs. Wearables are not just about tracking fitness, but also about monitoring health and chronic diseases. But where does all of this data live? Companies like Well are working to streamline all healthcare-related data into a single, customized solution so consumers can take control of their healthcare experience.
“Right now, when you think of medical wearables, you might think of an Apple Watch or a Fitbit. We think there is a larger market for medical wearables that are essentially invisible – it’s sole function is biometric monitoring that can feed these digital therapeutics.” – Dr. Steven LeBoeuf, President and Co-founder, Valencell, Inc.
Just as the industry is heading toward more streamlined, personalized experiences for patients, pharma should deliver the same. Additionally, it’s critical to stay on top of how medical wearables are evolving to consider potential partnerships or even development of tools directly from the brand that can create better data-driven experiences for your patient population.
Medicines of the future: A combination of molecular therapy and digital therapeutics
Instead of providers leaning on decades-old data from clinical trials of the past, they’ll expect to evaluate patient data in real time, powered by AI-generated insights to offer more personalized therapies to each individual. The digital therapeutics space will continue to skyrocket, with therapies like EndeavorRx gaining FDA acceptance. When it comes to trust and adoption of these technologies from providers, Jesse Ehrenfeld, trustee board chair for the American Medical Association, noted the top questions physicians ask, including: “Will it work?”, “Will I get paid for it?”, and, “Am I liable, or will I get sued?” Physicians are becoming more open to integrating digital therapeutics and tools into their clinical practices, but certainly these potential barriers to adoption will need to be overcome.
In many categories, pharma companies will face entrant competition from digital therapeutics. Pharma has the unique opportunity to think about how it can offer digital companion tools to their therapies that will offer real-world analysis of data, funneling insights to both physicians and patients that may improve outcomes.
Trust as a disruptor: A new innovation opportunity
Consumer trust and privacy concerns will continue to be a primary challenge for nearly every industry to tackle in 2021 and beyond. In fact, as shared on a panel on the topic, 55 percent of consumers don’t trust tech companies with their healthcare data. This will push companies to build trust and transparency by design, a key strategy while building out customer experience and engagement from the start. Krishna Cheriath, head of digital, data, and analytics at Zoetis Inc. and former chief data officer at BMS, shared an example on informed consent: “All of us are guilty of clicking ‘I agree’ before reading the terms and conditions – because it’s so difficult to go through reams of legalese to do it. What if we were able to break it down in a digestible way so users know what they are consenting to. Really make that experience of transparency friction-free.”
“Digital trust is eroding fast in our society. Fake news, data breaches, fear of misuse of data, general fear of big tech are pervasive in society. And I think these trends are true in varying degrees in digital health as well. But I don’t think of this as a challenge. I think of this as an opportunity for innovators to establish trust as a priority in the digital health space.” – Krishna Cheriath, VP, Head of Digital, Data and Analytics at Zoetis Inc.
There are a few primary challenges for pharma: 1) Trust impacts brand digital strategies as the “cookie” will continue to crumble. And, 2) it impacts your reputation and how your customers perceive your brand/company. Consider earning and building trust with your customers by taking a more transparent approach to privacy.
Market access will play a pivotal role in digital health adoption into mainstream
For promising digital health technologies to be embraced by providers and patients alike, payors will have to be on board and provide reimbursement. These technologies will be required to prove their value in improving overall health outcomes and decreasing system costs. Deneen Vojta, executive VP of United Healthcare, made it clear that their position was to continue to support telehealth. She acknowledged that, “We cannot just layer technology over the existing system,” and that, “The current system needs radical change.” However, there is some skepticism from providers, including Lee Schwamm, MD, VP of digital health virtual care at Mass General Brigham. While he shared that the use of technology provides the opportunity to modernize and digitize every aspect of practice to be able to accomplish personalized medicine, Dr. Schwamm also emphasized that if nothing is done at the federal/state level for reimbursement in the long term, providers will revert back to the old care model.
We are increasingly moving to a system of value-based care, and it will be critical for pharma to continue to take a market-access-first approach in developing go-to market strategies. Pharma has the unique opportunity to embrace digital innovations that will support proving their brands value in this environment.