Wharton Healthcare conference offers key takeaways for innovation in pharma

March 24, 2021 - by Julia Grumbine

New Paradigms in Health Care 

At this year’s Wharton Health Care Business Conference, Redrawing the Curve, healthcare leaders opened up about health inequities and how the industry should adjust to address these inequities. Over two days, executives from across industry, health systems, care networks, and affiliated groups discussed the future of COVID-19, assessed the current payment models, and stressed the importance of equity in healthcare and providing patient centric care.

Here are a few key takeaways from some of the panels and keynotes at this year’s conference:

COVID Can Be an Inflection Point for Change

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on problems like health disparities and inefficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system, leading to accelerated digital innovation. Julia Gerberding, Exec. VP and Chief Patient Officer at Merck believes that “COVID can be a turning point for…bridging health disparities.” The thinking around these problems and health inefficiencies can be used as a catalyst for solutions to systemic problems in healthcare.

Although the U.S. is reaching herd immunity for the current variant, more variants are emerging that could indicate that coronavirus is not going away. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to commit ourselves to following effective, proven steps that reduce the spread of the virus. Vaccine hesitancy will be a major topic in healthcare in 2021, and ultimately therapeutics could be the best bet for management of COVID-19.

Vaccine hesitancy and COVID-19 treatment have different flavors among different populations –and it’s important for pharma to understand those flavors rather than develop one-size-fits-all approaches

Helping Vulnerable Communities Requires Data and Partnerships

COVID is exacerbating the distrust that vulnerable populations have with the healthcare system. The solution to this will be built on equity, access, and addressing social determinants of health. Avenel Joseph, VP, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation notes that “you can’t address what you can’t see.” A key gap is getting adequate collection of data aligned to SDoH. However, collecting data on SDoH is just the tip of the iceberg – partnerships are needed to address inequities among sub-groups.

When considering an SDoH engagement, it is important for pharma to consider the critical role of trusted messengers in the solution to bridging distrust in healthcare delivery to vulnerable populations. We need to engage/reach people on their terms (in their language, acknowledging cultural nuances) in order to empower them to do things they may not ordinarily do, such as utilize healthcare technology/telehealth, etc. Additionally, partnership opportunities around SDoH exist at various levels, including community and peer organizations. The connection already established between vulnerable communities and trusted members of those communities could help healthcare reach more people on their terms and aid in bridging the distrust.

Customer Experiences will Accelerate Innovation

In healthcare, disrupters are occurring that put emphasis on the customer’s experience, evolving the standards of what healthcare should be. Companies that focus on providing an experience will ultimately rise to the surface. Glen Tullman, Founder & Executive Chairman of Livongo Health stated “Nothing smart has instructions” meaning that smart healthcare solutions should be intuitive to operate, thus enhancing the customer experience. The standards of what healthcare should be will be heavily tied patient centric solutions including key factors such as usability and accessibility.

As disruptors to the traditional payer model grow (i.e. Ro delivering cash pay treatments with strong customer experience), the current system becomes more likely to need to evolve. Pharma should consider the growing emphasis on customer experience and ensure that products and services ease burdens, reduce friction, and ultimately provide utility to customers.

Key Takeaways for Pharma

    • Vaccine hesitancy and COVID-19 treatments look different across disparate populations. Pharma needs to account for these differences and move away from a one-size-fits-all approach towards precision medicine
    • When considering an SDoH engagement, pharma must consider the critical role of trusted messengers to engaging people on their terms and bridging distrust in healthcare delivery to vulnerable populations
    • As healthcare disruptors grow, putting more emphasis on the customer experience, Pharma should ensure that all products and services focus on usability and accessibility; ultimately providing utility to customers

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