Even before COVID-19 overran the country, organizations in and around the American healthcare system were trying to adjust to, and master, operational disruption. But a new study from Fishawack Health, conducted during the last two months, reveals that the pandemic has in fact dramatically increased the pace of change within the industry.

“One of the quotes we had was, ‘We’re going to end up five years beyond where we would have been if the pandemic actually hadn’t taken hold,’” said Fred Bassett, the head of consulting at Fishawack. “What COVID has done is accelerate a lot of these trends that were already apparent in the market.”

A key hypothesis that emerged from Fishawack’s client conversations suggested that one of the most profound ongoing transformations involves the end-to-end patient experience. “The pandemic is going to change every single care pathway in some way, whether it’s drugs and treatments that are administered or the way the patient is diagnosed or remotely monitored,” Bassett explained.

The corollary that emerges from the research is that healthcare will become more decentralized. “Remote care and telehealth were already there in the market, but COVID has really accelerated their adoption and utilization,” observed Fishawack senior consultant Neha Thakur.

While the pandemic has pushed forward the pace of certain in-progress innovations, other ones stem directly from the events of the last nine months. The most significant of these, Thakur said, is the need to do virtual rather than traditional product launches.

Companies that lack the digital tools to do this are finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage, she noted. “What the pandemic has shown them is that unless they had those capabilities in place, many of the launches had to be delayed or else weren’t as successful as they would have been if the pandemic hadn’t occurred.”

At the same time, Bassett has detected a more hopeful attitude among clients about the degree of positive change they believe to be possible – an accelerated emphasis on digital innovation and a desire for a more integrated approach to product launches, among others. “That actually stretches across many domains, including things like more agile trial designs,” he said.

Bassett also reported more interest in scenario-planning, an area in which there is “a desire for clients to help us facilitate internal conversations in which plans are pressure-tested for different scenarios.” A few potential examples: a second country-wide lockdown or the arrival of a vaccine before the end of the year.

The research also revealed that clients are looking for help in mapping the healthcare delivery landscape and identifying potential pain points. “At the beginning of the pandemic, it was very difficult to predict the impact on care pathways,” Bassett explained. “Now, if you do interviews with physicians, they’re much better able to articulate the immediate and likely long-term impact of the pandemic on care pathways.”

Other revelations from the Fishawack research included:

  • Additional interest around digital therapeutics, especially within the realm of mental health.
  • A desire to maximize revenue from in-market products, which has led to interest in refreshing or repositioning brands mid-launch.
  • A continued shift toward what Bassett called “a service mindset.”