It is rare for an industry to get the opportunity to wear a cape and help save the world. But this is a role currently being played by the life sciences and healthcare (LSH) industry. As we all wait with bated breath for a breakthrough drug or vaccine to fight COVID-19, companies in the industry are helping to lead that search. At the same time, LSH companies are providing important support to the real heroes of the day: the healthcare workers fighting the pandemic on the front lines.
While the social and economic stresses caused by the pandemic are clear to all, an array of collateral business challenges are impacting the LSH industry – some current and some likely to arise in the near future. Among the immediate challenges:
- Scarce R&D resources are being diverted to COVID-19 research, leading to de-prioritization of work on other life-saving therapies. This may result in newer drugs taking longer to come to market.
- There are delays in carrying out clinical trials, because of patient recruitment challenges and the inability to get recruited patients for follow-ups as per the current protocols.
- There is the loss of business for medical devices companies because of deferment of certain elective surgeries like joint replacement.
- Hospitals and healthcare workers are being put under duress as the more financially sustaining medical procedures and medical testing are being deferred.
- Providers and payers are looking to accelerate digitization and automation of manual processes like claim filing, adjudications, and others.
But these challenges are counterbalanced by the beneficial ways in which digital technology is being adopted to both manage and understand the chaos caused by the pandemic. The grim bell curve charts have become a familiar sight for the healthcare industry and medical devices companies whose products are powered by various data analytic models. So are the various initiatives underway to track and trace infected patients, which are limited not so much by technology as by privacy issues. Global collaboration in fighting the pandemic, whether among governments or private institutions or functions, is being enabled by digital technology.
Most industry analysts have historically regarded the life sciences industry as being relative laggards in the adoption of digital technologies. COVID-19 is changing that. I have had conversations with CXOs in the healthcare industry who say half in jest that they are seeing COVID-19 play the role of “Chief Transformation Officer” within their organizations.
For example, doctors who were unwilling to try telemedicine are actively embracing it to treat patients. Hospitals are adopting certain digital technologies, such as remote patient monitoring, changing what had been frowned upon into a necessary norm. Security once seen as a hindrance is enabling continued employee productivity. In other words, the LSH industry is beginning to truly go digital. And once learned, the ease, affordability, and convenience afforded by some of these changes, will be hard to unlearn. In the near future, we will see an increased adoption of remote clinical trials, as well as telemedicine and remote patient monitoring going mainstream, to name a few developments.
And while the initial investments in digital technology are enabling remote work and securing end points and data, over the long term the investments will pivot to carrying forward, growing and nurturing these “digital seeds” – seeds that will effectively transform the very business models of life sciences and healthcare companies.