As the healthcare industry continues to lead humanity’s war against the pandemic that has ravaged our world for over a year, it has had to dig deep into its reserves of grit, resilience and altruism to fulfill its mission of keeping us safe and healthy. In the face of this crisis, the industry has demonstrated unprecedented and awe-inspiring levels of agility and innovation to develop life-saving vaccines and drugs, restructure its supply chain, and also pivot to a “digital-first” operating model.

When the pandemic first struck, the conventional model of face-to-face (in-person) interaction between healthcare organizations and physicians was not longer fit-for-purpose. Rapid recruitment of patients for clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines and therapies was a key imperative for life sciences companies but the traditional, site-centric trial approach was woefully inadequate. Unlike banking, hospitality, or retail, healthcare has been slow to adopt digital transformation. However, in the face of the pandemic, life sciences companies reset their workflows and processes overnight to migrate to a new, tech-enabled paradigm.

The big question now is whether the digital transformation in healthcare over the last year is here to stay or whether the industry will revert to its pre-COVID ways of doing things. A general consensus seems to be emerging that the industry needs to be prepared for similar crises in future and must therefore build upon the momentum of digital transformation over the last year. The future which was believed to be quite a few years away is “clear and present” and it is incumbent on the industry to get “future ready” now.    

Decoding future ready healthcare – Although there are multiple dimensions along which the future of healthcare with evolve, here are three major trends and the affiliated capabilities that healthcare organizations will need to build now to take advantage of in the new world order.

Technology will deliver a non-linear impact on health outcomes

A recent survey from DT Consulting (an Indegene group company) found that 57% of actively recruiting clinical trials are using or planning to use digital tools for various trial-related activities. Hence, we predict that decentralized clinical trials will soon become the norm delivering non-linear acceleration of clinical operations. In another study, Gens and Associates, a regulatory affairs consultancy, found 74% of larger organizations plan to move to an end-to-end regulatory information management solution by 2022 while an Indegene study demonstrated that 50-80% of the errors in submissions to regulatory agencies such as the FDA can be prevented through the use of technology.

Several healthcare organizations have already woken up to this and have taken first steps to transform their processes through the judicious use of contemporary technology. In one such instance, a clinical stage biopharma company augmented its patient recruitment in a phase 3 clinical trial of a drug for hospitalized COVID-19 patients by using innovative digital strategies to achieve a 7% qualification rate during primary screening. It helped comply with FDA guidelines within very tight timelines. Another biopharma company saved over 42,000 hours of human effort per year by streamlining its regulatory dossier submissions using tech-enabled intelligence and planning. Similarly, another large biotech company’s medical communications team saved over 2,700 hours of effort while ensuring that 82% of its documents were approved in the first round of promotional and medical reviews. In each case, modern technologies such as RPA, AI/ML, and NLP were used to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of operations.

Commercial and business model innovation will be as essential to business success as scientific discovery

We have witnessed a surge in the use of digital channels for HCP (healthcare professional) engagement since the start of the pandemic (22% á in remote meeting, 6% á in website, 8% á in webinars and 5% á in social media). However, Indegene’s survey of Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) found that at least 1 in 3 HCPs are not satisfied with the engagement experience delivered by healthcare marketers. We believe that hyper-personalized content will substantially improve HCP and patient engagement experience in the near future. 

To cite an example, a large biopharma company employed a unique, digital-first co-commercialization approach to successfully activate 3,000 “new-to-brand” prescriptions from whitespace HCPs. Within the first 6 months of this approach being deployed, the company generated over 56,000 total prescriptions and $2.2 million of incremental revenue. In another instance, a large biotech company under pressure from its rising S&M costs leap-frogged its digital marketing maturity curve to achieve 56% á in global content reuse, 26% â in agency cost, 33% faster time to market, and 86% â in campaign cost per customer touchpoint.

Deep healthcare knowledge will add far more context to the huge volume of data being generated

Healthcare companies will be able to unlock value from patient data through advanced analytics and hence drive more timely, efficient, effective and evidence-based patient care. IDC estimated 2,314 exabytes of data was generated by the healthcare industry in 2020, a 11,000% increase from the 153 exabytes generated in 2013. An EY study found that 67% of life science executives are increasing their investments in Digital Transformation.

This explains why a leading life sciences company integrated its disparate data sets into a common healthcare-specific data model and created standardized data flows for 80-85% of common business questions. It brought massive efficiencies in patient analytics and reduced the time to insights for a variety of use cases by 60-80%. 

Preparing early helps

If recent events are any indication, healthcare organizations need to prepare now to be ready for the future. It was not easy for them to adapt swiftly to a digital-first way of working when the pandemic struck. Biopharma planning cycles typically operate over a few years during drug development and several months during commercialization. 

Let’s explore how getting future ready could have helped combat COVID-19. Healthcare organizations could have recruited a diverse sample for vaccine clinical trials faster. Applying technology to file regulatory applications could have accelerated the approval process even more. Doctors and patients could have been presented more authentic information about vaccine effectiveness. And of course, it would have ensured that while solutions to protect against COVID-19 are prioritized, therapies vital to other health challenges continue to reach and benefit patients without disruption. While one cannot predict the next catastrophe, future ready healthcare organizations would be in a better position to respond and hence drive superior health outcomes for patients.

While embracing technology, healthcare organizations will also need the right talent pool to enable their future readiness. A GlobalData study revealed 46% respondents believe that a lack of specific skills and talent will hinder the adoption of digital transformation by pharma companies. Healthcare organizations will thus complement in-house competencies with the right external partners that serve their purpose of bringing innovative, affordable healthcare to the most inaccessible parts of the world. Now’s the time to invest in the right capabilities and culture that builds #FutureReadyHealthcare.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.