We aren’t through the COVID-19 pandemic yet, but with vaccines being authorized around the world, an end may come into view this year. Given the ongoing studies surrounding viral disease transmission and treatments as well as all the struggles COVID-19 has caused for patients, clinicians, and hospitals, a post-COVID-19 healthcare system could look different from anything before.
“I think the major healthcare priority for 2021 is determining what the post COVID-19 world will look like,” says Deepak Prakash, senior director, global marketing, Avery Dennison Medical. “All the players in the healthcare ecosystem will focus on this, including OEMs, suppliers, hospitals and medical centers, doctors, care providers, and patients. There have been a lot of changes due to the pandemic, and more are on the way.”
In the meantime, there’s still some work to do. Bill Betten, director of medtech solutions, S3 Connected Health, says that “while the new vaccines offer a clearer path to a post-COVID world, there is still the daunting task of the production and distribution to the entire country. There is also the question of how to help those affected by the virus, including understanding the long-term healthcare implications and addressing the medical debt incurred from hospital care. The longer-term challenge for healthcare is whether the lessons learned from this pandemic drive changes in the medical infrastructure, logistics, and technology adoption or whether we return to the status quo.”
Betten adds that “while nationalized healthcare doesn’t appear to be on the horizon, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will face less opposition as challenges to it proceed through the Supreme Court. The court will be ruling on several aspects of the ACA, including the continued constitutionality of the individual mandate, an issue that will take on new importance in the post-COVID era. There is concern that if the ACA is ruled unconstitutional, it could potentially leave millions of Americans who have had COVID uninsured.”
Brian Chapman, managing partner and leader of the medical technology industry vertical at ZS Associates, doesn't expect to see an overhaul of how we pay for healthcare, at least not along the lines of “Medicare for all,” he says. "But addressing the uninsured is a reasonable priority to see progress, most likely using the various channels that already exist. Obamacare is safe for a variety of reasons, and it is entirely reasonable to expect that its aim of addressing the uninsured and reducing the link between employment and insurance, while confirming the prohibition on penalizing pre-existing conditions, will progress."
Chapman is seeing "a reshuffling of overall health priorities," he says. "For the last few years, the marginal spending has been on oncology and rare disease. What we learned from COVID is the importance of more basic chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. While this obviously won’t benefit every medical device, our industry often provides transformative interventions to address these chronic conditions. In that sense, I’m optimistic that the shuffling of healthcare priorities will place greater emphasis on medical technology that improves the underlying causes of these chronic conditions. Largely this is a strong trend, as long as we’re ready to prove our case."
Healthcare supply-chain strategies may need to be revisited. Prakash believes that restoring supply networks will be key for OEMs in 2021. “The pandemic revealed significant flaws in healthcare supply chains, and the volatile geopolitical climate also had a negative impact. As a result, healthcare companies are going to reevaluate the strength and resiliency of their supply networks in the coming year. Many will opt to reorganize them. This will probably entail some reshoring of facilities.”
Chris Hale, CEO of Kountable, says "the market has completely inverted as a result of the crisis. PPE is the outsized example, but supply and demand imbalances have impacted healthcare delivery across the globe. Healthcare manufacturers and distributors used to invest massively in marketing to reach customers. Now they have so much demand they’re having to decide which customers to sell to, at what prices, and in what order. They’re selling future production right off the manufacturing line. Our world was a sell side world, and we need to develop buy side solutions to ensure this new dynamic doesn’t leave massive parts of the population out."
Hale suspects that "things will never go back to normal from a market perspective. Technological advancement allows companies to adapt and compete at a much faster pace. Companies that are able to adapt to these new market dynamics will serve their customers more effectively and establish their brands in new and growing markets. This will leave behind new sales, distribution, and customer engagement infrastructure that will change the way medical devices and their consumable inputs are sold, distributed, and ultimately delivered to improve patient outcomes."
There may also be a remote business boom. “We’ve seen a lot of companies get more comfortable doing business remotely,” said Scott Phillips, CEO & Founder of StarFish Medical. “That opens their options of working with more distant vendors. Some of this newfound comfort will stick through the latter stages of the pandemic and beyond. Vendors that get really comfortable with virtual relationship management and develop appropriate tools and processes will have an advantage.”