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A new age of innovation in healthcare

The long-term potential of approaching healthcare challenges and opportunities with a new creative spirit is something that goes way beyond technical reach

Holding up a globe

Blinking into the daylight, healthcare emerged from the gloom of the pandemic with a clear vision of the future, powered by digital potential and the dazzling capabilities of innovation.

With the pharmaceutical industry’s reputation burning with Pole Star intensity, the challenges of hospital backlogs and relentless rises in disease burden appeared to be well met by the catalysing impetus of change.

Giant strides made possible by the need to respond to the pandemic’s choke-hold created new possibilities of care that were seized by innovators across the sector.

But, with the pandemic hopefully in the rear view mirror, the focus now falls on how industry can use its pandemic experience to weld in those significant technological leaps and keep the pioneering spirit alive in the face of global economic crises.

Fiscal and political interference have put the brakes on some advances and, although many of the improved practices adopted during the pandemic will not be rolled back, there is caution in the air about what can be achieved and the pace of that progress.

“It is a fascinating dynamic and I don’t think we can look at this cleanly as pandemic and post-pandemic because we are now looking at developments through an economic lens that may continue for some years,” said Miranda Dini, Chief Operating Officer and Head of Healthcare Communications at the Resonant Group, which includes the agencies Anthem, Bedrock and Origins.

“We might find that innovations with a clear cost benefit will be accelerated while others in need of longer-term investment may struggle. Short-term wins may be more attractive than projects that have to take more account of shareholders’ returns and current market pressures.

“But digital communications tools, accelerated by necessity during the pandemic, are here to stay. They were already established prior to the pandemic but went through the roof and there will be no going back.”

Real-world focus
The great challenge is to ensure the pandemic legacy is not just the one hit of video calls and telemedicine, which, although vital to the pandemic response, can be viewed as the on-ramp for transformation.

Dini highlighted the huge post-pandemic potential in utilising real-world data to improve clinical trials, screening and diagnosis, and empowering healthcare providers and healthcare systems to better reach disadvantaged and disconnected communities.

“Real-world data and real-world experience are critical and they are being enabled by different ways of tracking patients and their experiences,” added Dini, who sees a continued rise in remote monitoring of patients being the engine room of data creation. “It will provide the capability of looking at how patients are experiencing their medications and managing their conditions in the real world as well as improving their clinical trials experience.

“It will also help the direct connectivity between physicians and their patients.”

The long-term potential of approaching healthcare challenges and opportunities with a new creative spirit is something that goes way beyond technical reach into the realms of opening up healthcare for elements of the public that are under served by, or mistrustful of, traditional engagement.

“Inequalities are much worse than they were pre-pandemic, which is a huge issue that we have to face. We have to make sure we’re achieving equity in clinical trial recruitment because, if we’re not studying the right populations, we’re not getting the right data that will ensure that the treatment works for the right patients,” observed Dini.

“There is also still a lot of work to be done on the cost of treatments and helping people who may not have the financial means to get to the hospital or leave work for tests or treatments.

“The economic situation globally, and in Europe specifically, is impacting healthcare and we need to ensure that through diagnosis and treatment, whether that is by digital advances or not, we are able to ease the burden and reach disenfranchised or under-represented communities.”

The promise of digital
It is not just the under-represented communities that are in need of focus. The sheen of freshly minted tech and the vaccination triumph of the pandemic should not eclipse the looming health challenges presented by ageing demographics overall, with the share of the European population who are over 65 forecast to rise from 20% to 30% by 2070, while the share of those who are over 80 will more than double from 6% to 13%, according to the EU Commission Ageing Report.

Although lifespan in Europe is increasing, so too are the healthcare challenges society is facing, with more than four million people diagnosed with cancer annually, and this is forecast to reach 5.2 million by 2040, WHO statistics reveal.

Dini sees the challenge and promise of digital tools playing a role in providing more accurate and faster diagnoses, remote monitoring of conditions and creating an environment where the public can connect in different ways with healthcare services.

“People are afraid of the pain or embarrassment of some tests or treatments for conditions such as cervical or colorectal cancers and it feels like these types of diagnostics are not yet optimised,” she said. “If we are not diagnosing accurately or in a timely way, we are missing diagnoses or finding them too late, which means the treatments don’t actually reach the right people at a point where they can make a viable difference.”

But the dash to digital should not be at the expense of the human touch, she cautioned, emphasising that contact is critical to both healthcare delivery and to the dissemination of education and information across the sector.

Exciting potential
“This is important for patients because something is lost when issues are addressed solely through technology rather than in person; the body language, the cues to what is happening below the surface and what is visible to the physician in person that is not evident on screen,” she added. “There is also the huge change in the healthcare communications industry post-pandemic, with fewer live meetings and congresses where data and information are shared. From a communications standpoint, this is important as it influences how we as communicators see the long-term opportunities for engaging with and educating each other.”

Dini believes that the patient voice, and delivering compelling public and medical engagement campaigns, are critical ways in which industry and healthcare can make the best of opportunities created by the pandemic, from chatbot technology and faster-paced regulatory processes to improving in-person connections between healthcare providers and patients.

It is also important to ensure that the short-term reputational gains from creating and manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines is not lost over time.

“Everyone will refer back to the time when various pharmaceutical companies came together to focus on finding and developing a vaccine,” added Dini. “Since then we have had to deal with the anti-vax movement – and drug pricing will continue to be an issue – but I believe that we need to continue to focus on improving the reputation of the industry, as a lot of what pharmaceutical companies achieves is underrated or goes unnoticed.

“From within the industry, you can see the efforts every day to follow the science and deliver the best for patients and caregivers; we should continue with the long-term aim of recognising that and connecting with the public.”

She added: “There will always be challenges, but I am excited about the potential for industry over both the short- and long-term to keep pursuing opportunities to make a real difference.”

Danny Buckland is a journalist specialising in the healthcare industry

9th February 2023

Danny Buckland is a journalist specialising in the healthcare industry

9th February 2023

From: Marketing


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