The COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive significant changes to nearly every industry, from real estate to staffing to consumer goods — but it fundamentally changed how consumers view and access healthcare. As the U.S. continues to navigate the pandemic, alongside mixed economic data, supply chain challenges, and labor challenges, what lies ahead for the healthcare industry in 2022? Below, our experts offer their predictions.
- The consumerization and socialization of primary care: Over the last few years, well known drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens have increased their footprint in the primary care space, offering clinics, vaccination services and pharmacist consultations at the patient’s convenience. However, that is not a sustainable model for independent healthcare practitioners, especially when you consider the time and cost of running the back office and marketing the practice. In order to compete, these practitioners are turning to social platforms that allow them to meet the on-demand healthcare needs of consumers, such as telehealth services, which have exploded onto the scene in the wake of COVID-19.
- Managing chronic conditions — a failure prior to COVID-19 — will take center stage: The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the profound dangers — to patients and the healthcare system as whole — of undermanaging or mismanaging patients with chronic health conditions. As many as half of those who lost their lives to COVID over the past two years in the U.S. had a chronic condition (often more than one) that contributed to their deaths. This is not a new subject. Providers have known for years that many people diagnosed with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, CV disease, COPD/lung disease, autoimmune disorders and cancer, don’t manage their disease property or at all. But it was COVID that finally made clear the dire consequences of this lack of treatment — and it was a wake-up call for the U.S. healthcare system.In 2022, look for companies that are developing new solutions and care models to effectively treat patients with chronic diseases to grab the limelight. This could include those focused on value-based care models, including ACOs, where coordination of care is a key component to effectively treating these patients. Getting this right will not only impact people at risk of dying of COVID (or suffering long-haul effects even if they live), but it will also prepare the U.S. healthcare system for a new pandemic or a new troubling COVID-19 variant. Even without a lingering or new pandemic, the long-term positive health outcomes of effectively managing patients with chronic diseases will be a gamechanger in the nation’s overall health.
- A sea change is coming for women’s reproductive rights: With U.S. Supreme Court decisions limiting access to abortions, not in over 50 years has women’s reproductive rights been more of a focus in the United States. With as many as 12 states (and perhaps more) likely to restrict abortion rights across the country following Supreme Court decisions, this polarizing and challenging topic will be debated endlessly. Politics aside, companies and organizations dedicated to birth control and pregnancy testing will have a greater impact across the healthcare system than they’ve ever had. Women are likely to increase birth control usage (although contraceptives could come under fire next) and drastically increase periodic (if not daily or weekly) pregnancy testing. In fact, the latter may become a new routine for many. Companies that aim to deliver easier access to these products will rise in 2022 and beyond and have an opportunity to own the narrative, while avoiding much of the political vitriol this topic garners.
- Mental illness, long considered a stepchild in the U.S. healthcare system, will be a critical topic in the coming year: And it’s about time. For years, mental health advocates have not found their footing, while millions of Americans have gone untreated, undertreated or mistreated. Proof that mental health will make its way toward the top of the healthcare priorities in 2022 is the unprecedented and dire advisory U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently made. He says the U.S. needs to prioritize mental health treatment access for children and adolescents who are suffering from the pandemic. A new pandemic, he says, could be coming, including meteoric rises in suicide, substance abuse, and debilitating depression and anxiety diagnoses. Companies and organizations focused on increasing access to mental health services will be in high demand. A nation that has spent nearly two years in various stages of shutdown, quarantine and isolation will have to come to terms with the mental health impacts. It won’t be easy, as the mental health system in the U.S. is in disrepair. Solutions to increase access, including reliance on virtual care/telehealth and new low-cost solutions will dominate the industry. Look for government funding to increase for mental health solutions, as the nation tries to put COVID-19 behind it, while evaluating the structural failures of the past.
- The drug pricing wars — one step forward, two steps back: Recently, the House agreed to a plan to overhaul the pricing of prescription medicines. This is not a new idea, but one that has been argued through numerous administrations. The formidable pharmaceutical lobby has been instrumental in curtailing this movement over the years, but the recent eleventh-hour deal to allow Medicare Part D to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies for some drugs older than 9 or 12 years would be a major victory for the Democratic Congress and won’t necessarily hurt innovation in the pharmaceutical industry, especially for smaller biotech companies. While this carve-out of “some” drugs will provide relief to Medicare and seniors paying out of pocket, it is far from what the White House and progressive Democrats had hoped in terms of aggressive drug price negotiation. Still, it represents a step forward in providing greater access to drugs for Medicare patients while continuing to support innovation.
- Impact of supply chain on R&D: Just as we saw the downstream impact of pipette shortages in 2020, the impact of the supply chain on pharma/biotech R&D efforts is still unknown. When a part that might impact a diagnostic tool is delayed, is there a workaround solution? In an industry that increasingly relies on and demands accessibility, automation and speed, the impact of supply chain issues may require considerable problem-solving patches to ensure pipelines stay on track.
- Clinical trial recruitment: Despite clinical trial data and milestones becoming household discussion in 2020, clinical trial recruitment is still lagging in many areas. Patient awareness and access to clinical trial sites remains a challenge for many. Companies are looking at new ways to reach patients, screen patients virtually, and use big data to improve clinical trial recruitment efforts and match patients to enrolling trials based on patient criteria. We are likely to see many programs seek to drive patient understanding of clinical trials and an increase in the use of big data to connect trials with potential patients. But with the number of clinical trials seeking to enroll patients, the numbers won’t add up unless industry and investigators collaborate on trial design and developmental targets.
- Cutting of R&D red tape: COVID-19 vaccinations and therapies received emergency use authorization on a pathway to approval, which has underscored the considerable red tape in the standard FDA approval process. On average, the FDA approval process for a new drug can take up to ten years. There are new programs that are accelerating the review process — not just emergency use — but programs that are using predictive testing for novel cancer treatments, advances in biotech that are simulating drug interactions in lieu of costly patient trials. These technology advances are likely to have a greater impact on accelerating approval timelines than changes from the FDA to the approval process, but both are sure to be hot topics in 2022.
This post is part of the ICR 2022 trends series. Read more on the ICR Insights blog.