After the past two years were mired by the chaotic pace of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 was set to be a year of grounding and regaining a sense of normalcy.

However, things weren’t quite the same as they were when the world paused in March 2020. Looking ahead, 2023 is shaping up to be the first year post-pandemic where traction may be felt in artificial intelligence, data-driven local market models and improved retention in healthcare, according to a report out of Syneos Health this week.

“2022 was a reset. We were emerging from the panic and crisis of the pandemic,” Leigh Householder, EVP and managing director of technology and data science at Syneos Health, noted in a podcast episode detailing the report. “As we move into the new year, we’re looking at a year of renewal and reimagining. Our senses are sharpened around what we need to learn.”

The report outlined 12 different key trends expected to dominate in 2023, across three categories – technology evolution, human engagement and healthcare advancement. 

Here are the top five for medical marketers to pay attention to going into the new year.

1. AI leads the way

Healthcare organizations are going to continue to lean into the possibilities of AI, machine learning and other innovative technologies next year. 

“AI has been through numerous cycles of promise, hype, despair and rebirth,” Householder explained. But she expects that in 2023, AI will begin emerging out of the “hype and disappointment cycle into delivering real value.”

Among the areas expected to grow, the report pinpointed natural language processing, image classification and patient prioritization models. Still, AI will also continuously help predict the trajectory and severity of diseases.

2. Digital transformation restart

Digital transformation has been an oft-talked-about theme throughout the pandemic and even ventured into buzzword territory. 

Yet Syneos Health thinks that 2023 will bring with it a need for more speed and aggression with which to push digital transformation forward. 

In fact, the report argues that the healthcare industry is merely in the “early to middle stages” of digital transformation maturity, so there’s plenty of room to grow.

Householder highlighted two themes in particular that would stand out in 2023: employee empowerment and persistence of agility. 

Currently, many organizations feel they’re in so-called “fast follower mode”: rather than being leaders and drivers in change, they’re following the waves. More people want their organizations to be aggressive in pushing digital transformation forward.

In addition, healthcare organizations will need to mobilize all employees – not just those siloed or sidelined – to seize upon data-driven opportunities.

3. Rep-to-physician interactions skew to in-person

In-person events, office time and doctor visits have made a comeback throughout 2022 and that trend will continue throughout 2023. The same goes for rep-to-physician interactions as well. Synoes Health notes that 73% of rep-to-physician interactions already happen in person.

However, the dynamic may be different this time around. 

“This is not a back-to-business-as-usual trend,” the report noted. “Instead, it’s a new chapter in how field teams engage HCPs. Entering 2023, we’re looking at big changes in value expectations, automation and modern segmentation/targeting.”

HCPs and prescribers don’t want repetitive promotion – and they’ll want less in their email inboxes, the report found. 

As email communication from patients, colleagues and life science partners increased during the pandemic, many HCPs are feeling inbox fatigue. 2023 will require healthcare and pharma companies to pace their emails – for example, four to six weeks apart – and to develop highly targeted and relevant ads.

4. Improving retention in healthcare

Hunting for talent was one of the industry’s main priorities of 2022. In 2023, there will be a greater need and focus on actually keeping those workers. Unsurprisingly, providing employees with flexibility and purpose will be key.

As the Great Resignation swept across the pharma and healthcare world in 2022, employees were beginning to ask themselves whether they found their work fulfilling, or if better opportunities existed elsewhere.

Syneos Health forecasts next year as the start of what it dubs “the great resumption,” if organizations target individual employees properly. Leaders will want to look at their workforces and ask employees if they’re feeling excited to dive into work, if they feel they’re using their strengths every day and if they have the chance to do something they’re good at and love.

Healthcare organizations will need to stay innately in tune with their employees and stem burnout in order to boost retention and ensure employees are happy.

5. Debating value — to both spur innovation and ensure access

With a continued focus on rising healthcare costs and the need to regulate drug prices, 2022 brought with it several strides in the area of value. 

The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act included several drug pricing regulation provisions that would allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain medications.

But 2022 also saw the launch of Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drug Company with the goal of providing access to lower-cost drugs. Other major players — including Amazon, Walmart, GoodRx and Costco have forayed into this space, harping upon what they see as an opportunity as advocacy groups, policymakers and the public alike have called for solutions.

Syneos Health also projects that 2023 will likely entail further rollouts of such efforts, including Amazon Pharmacy within Blue Cross/Blue Shield and other insurance plans.