Our research team breaks down this week’s top healthcare news.
In an age of unprecedented change, staying current has never been more important. Our team at Chartis is curating news most relevant to the healthcare industry and tracking the topics that are trending on seven key issues: high reliability care, digital and advanced technology, financial sustainability, health disparities, the health ecosystem of the future, partnerships, and the provider enterprise. Each week, we break down what’s happening and why it matters.
A third COVID vaccine from Johnson & Johnson (J&J) was approved by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) this week. J&J expects to begin shipping doses right away, planning to deliver 20 million by the end of March and 100 million by the end of June. The mass production and distribution effort will be possible, in part, because of an historic partnership that will see Merck producing the vaccine alongside its competitor, J&J. Through ramped up distribution and production efforts of the first two approved vaccines, the United States has nearly doubled the pace of vaccination over the last six weeks, and the approval of J&J will further increase that rate. Prioritization efforts have led to nearly half of seniors age 65 and older being vaccinated.
Additional optimistic vaccine news came this week as initial data shows the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines may be effective after just a single dose. While the study is yet to be peer-reviewed, preliminary findings were that a single dose reduced symptomatic disease by 60 percent and hospitalization by 80 percent in those over age 70.
The approval and production of the third vaccine alongside increased production of the two initial vaccines means a more rapid timeline for vaccinating Americans. President Biden noted this week, “This country will have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May.” Having ample supply available is only one piece of the puzzle. For the effort to be successful without a vaccination mandate, Americans must also choose to get the vaccination. Fortunately, consumer opinion may be shifting positively towards vaccination. 55 percent of Americans have been vaccinated or indicated they want to be vaccinated as soon as possible, up 8 points from last month. The increase likely stems from education and messaging on safety and efficacy and seeing the vaccine’s positive impact and minimal side effects on family and friends.
More data is needed on the efficacy of a single dose of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZenaca vaccines. And while it is still important for all those receiving the first dose to get their second dose, if the initial findings prove correct, there may be a case for spacing the two doses further apart if it allows a larger swath of the population to be vaccinated quickly if only the two-dose regimens are available.
Digital health companies continue to grow and attract investment. 2020 saw a record number of digital health deals and dollars invested in start-ups: 440 and $14.1 billion, respectively, per Rock Health. Larger, more established companies also continue to grow. Teladoc, which provides “24/7 access to U.S.-licensed doctors,” now has 51.8 paying members. Its revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020 was $383 million — up 145 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, according to financial filings as reported by Fierce Healthcare. Teladoc has also been on an acquisition run, purchasing InTouch Health for $600 million in early 2020 and Livongo for $18.5 billion in October.
Certainly, consumer adoption of digital health technologies has grown significantly in the past year, and the future looks promising for continued digital health usage overall. Specifically, telehealth (or telemedicine) usage rose dramatically, largely out of necessity when most in-person healthcare access closed temporarily as COVID-19 spread. Data from multiple sources — including The Commonwealth Fund’s outpatient report series — show that telehealth usage spiked in April and has since decreased, though to levels higher than pre-pandemic and with wide variation by clinical specialty (see last week's Top Reads).
A new report from Rock Health provides more detail on trends in the types of telehealth usage and demographics of telehealth users, comparing 2020 data to previous years. The report also includes data on consumer satisfaction with telehealth experience and willingness to share personal health data and information. The report’s data illuminate several important nuances to the general telehealth trends that have been widely reported, including:
The rise in digital health adoption is fueling a growth in digital health start-ups as well as larger digital health companies. Telehealth as a category demonstrated significant growth in 2020, mostly driven by an increase in video visits. However, new data suggest that the demographics of telehealth users didn’t markedly change. As the Rock Health report states, “Telemedicine adoption … increased most among subgroups which were (in prior years) already relatively ‘high’ adopters — younger, higher-income, and more highly educated …. Some of the 2020 data suggest that the pandemic acted more to reinforce and accelerate underlying trends rather than to draw in new consumer subgroups as digital health users.”
This presents an untapped opportunity for growth in consumer cohorts, such as seniors or those without higher education. Since telehealth appears to have served as a stop-gap solution during the height of COVID-19 when the pandemic reduced access to in-person care, and largely for emergency care, there is also a growth opportunity if telehealth can be established as a safe, reliable, and convenient option for routine care or chronic disease management in certain services.
To capture these growth opportunities and leverage digital health to improve healthcare for consumers, digital health companies and healthcare providers offering telehealth or other digital health solutions will need to design around the consumer. Digital solutions should not be implemented solely to fix an operational challenge within a health system to provide a temporary solution for care access, as was done out of necessity in COVID-19. Rather, digital solutions should be designed around the needs and desires of consumers. As Mona Baset, VP of Digital Services at SCL Health, recently articulated on The Big Unlock podcast, “Healthcare no longer gets a pass on consumer experience.” Using patient and family advisory groups to understand consumers’ needs, desires, past experiences, and future expectations will be crucial to designing a comprehensive digital health platform that attracts consumers and their families, makes it easy to access care, provides a seamless experience, and ideally leads them to return to that source of care in the future.
With learnings fresh in mind, health systems have the opportunity to take advantage of current momentum to accelerate the journey to a digitally forward mindset — one that fully and meaningfully intertwines virtual care throughout the broader care delivery system.
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