The Road Ahead in 2021

with Mark Bard

road ahead

Five Themes for Consideration

The past 12 months in health care have included massive disruption, significant investments, and generational change. There is no need to repeat the obvious 2020 clichés (fill in the blank) – but most of us looking at the macro industry trends and pondering what’s ahead, tend to agree the changes ushered in this year will keep the momentum into next year and beyond.

Seeking to distill those key trends into categories, we have listed a few concepts below for consideration as you think about what’s ahead for your brand, organization, and industry.


Public Health Moves Front and Center

By March of 2020, it became apparent to most Americans that the public health system was not prepared for what was coming at it – at warp speed. As we enter the recovery phase across the health system, the foundation of public health (tracking, monitoring, education) will become a critical function to get things moving again at scale. In addition to education about viable therapeutic options for treatment of CV-19, there will be an enormous effort on the vaccine front to try and achieve herd immunity in the shortest amount of time while religiously tracking and evaluating adverse events in the general population as well as high risk patient populations.


Data, Analytics, and Action

Perhaps the silver lining to a bad year was the massive injection of innovation related to health data – capture, tracking, sharing, and interoperability. While we seemed content for so many years to allow vendors to build their own data silos and restrict sharing across and within the system, this year we collectively broke down a lot of walls – real, perceived and regulatory – to force the system to use data to make the best decisions in the fastest way possible. The upside is that the realized value of shared data is just beginning. Look for exponential gains in the value of data (and insights) in the coming years driven by market forces, regulatory support, and mergers/acquisitions in the digital health and health IT space.


The Tail Risk of the “Status Quo”

Some may argue the biggest risk – is taking no risk. While some brands and organizations secretly wished for a return to “normal” at the end of this year, many brands in health, life sciences, and medical device used this time to rethink the delivery model, the patient journey, and how they interact with health professionals. While some brands debated the idea of a virtual launch of a pharmaceutical product in years past, it was done this year at scale not by choice – but necessity. Brands were also able to look at marketing impact of their programs in a way that was never possible in a noisy multi-channel world. Many teams with solid innovation and agile marketing programs already in place simply pressed harder on the gas pedal (fueled by spending and leadership support) and moved programs forward in months – that may have taken years in the past.


Tech-enabled Health

Yes, 2020 was the year virtual medicine moved squarely into the spotlight as patients needed convenient access to medical care, providers wanted (or needed) to offer better options for themselves and staff to deal with ill patients, and the technology infrastructure that was already supporting Netflix and YouTube streaming at scale was now being used to deliver an digital video experience that could satisfy many of the components of a routine office visit.

What’s ahead for the tele-health revolution? With the rapid improvements in remote monitoring of vital signs and home-based care solutions, tech-enabled health will grow its relative footprint in the share of medical interactions. These new systems also hold significant potential to bridge the gaps in care between providers and institutions. Innovative programs such as “Medically Home” in Boston continue to show how the home can be transformed into an extension or replacement for institution-based care. The next wave of virtual health will also bring about a flurry of spending and investment in disease-specific solutions. While primary care physicians were able to use virtual health platforms for routine visits, many specialists struggled with how to use these platforms to handle their typical visits with patients. Better tools – tailored to their specialty – will emerge for specialties requiring more than just the typical video chat encounter.

Finally, wearables, monitors, and health tracking will continue to move beyond the Silicon Valley biohackers audience. With the introduction of the latest Apple Watch – the average consumer now has access to oxygen saturation, ECG monitoring, heart rate, and fitness levels in real time. These devices can also sync up with a rapidly growing universe of medical platforms to help us track, enhance, and identify health problems early.


Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft

Amazon already made big news (again) with their launch of Amazon Pharmacy in late 2020. Building on their prior experience with PillPack, Amazon has made it clear that health data, logistics, and ultimately tech-based medical care is a key focus of the firm going forward. Apple also continues to build out their health offerings – a critical component of their most recent device upgrades. Google remains a major player in the AI and analytics space, and perhaps soon we’ll see fruits of the investments made by Verily – and related projects – aimed at bringing efficiency and data-driven insights to health. Finally, Microsoft continues to morph beyond their early foundations in software into data, cloud, analytics, and hardware with their ongoing projects focused on injecting data, AI, and analytics into the health delivery system.

Member Perspectives

To ensure we were considering a broad set of thought leader perspectives, we asked our members for their perspective on what’s coming in 2021. See their responses now.