Last year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (JPM), held not long ago in a time before COVID-19, was one where conversations on mental health, health reform, consumer technology, opioids, and cost reigned supreme as what leaders talked about most. This year’s virtual JPM conference was a bit different, however. What’s top of mind for executives now has dramatically shifted from one year to the next. On that note, here is what healthcare talked about most, at least at the recent JPM conference, regarding critical focuses for the year ahead, and beyond.
1. COVID-19 and Developing for the Future
As expected, the development and market distribution of various coronavirus treatments were front and center. More pharma companies specifically have their eyes on mRNA for future drug development in various areas of care.
Executives emphasized there’s a need for different kinds of COVID-19 treatments. Think combination therapies and additional vaccines. The status quo for things like how people are chosen for clinical trials isn’t necessarily relevant in the COVID-19 era. Executives pushed for more underrepresented patient populations to be included in clinical trial data so the results accurately reflect much more than a secluded subset of reactions.
“If there’s a silver lining, there are a lot of learnings about how we can develop our medicines, test our hypotheses, not just efficiently, but in the broadest set of populations possible,” said Levi Garraway, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer and President, Head of Global Product Development, at Roche and Genentech. “There’s no question that there are going to be many ways in which we, as an industry, conduct clinical trials that are forever changed … for the better,” he added.
Indeed, COVID-19 vaccination adoption – about 7 million vaccines have been given to people across the US so far – has been much slower, perhaps, than initially anticipated. One way to solve this problem may be the development of a vaccine that works in one dose, and one dose only. For example, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are reported to have more than 90 percent efficiency. But last November, AstraZeneca reported a half-dose vaccine was also at 90 percent efficiency. One shot versus two may streamline the entire current nationwide vaccination process.
As Oliver Wyman wrote last December, “Vast, one-off distribution operations have been successfully mobilized globally in the past – to deliver millions of new iPhone models in days and Harry Potter books in hours. The ‘only’ differences: The COVID-19 vaccine requires fragile cold storage and transportation; the supply chain will run for months and not a single day; specially trained staff need to administer the vaccine; and millions of people will have to line up in the right position at the right time – twice.”
2. Digital Acceleration and Health in the Home
While vaccine development moved at warped speed, diagnostic development did not. What was missing? Mass testing resources across the country.
According to the Stanford Center for Digital Health, there are opportunities for investment in bolstering at-home testing for respiratory diseases. Pairing at-home testing options and the massive increase in telehealth usage during the thick of the pandemic, one thing is clear – home care is the future of care.
According to Oliver Wyman, the home environment – where someone lives, eats dinner, and raises a family, for instance – is the most authentic place someone can receive care.
As Monique Reese, DNP, Senior Vice President, Highmark Health, told Oliver Wyman late last year, “From a consumerism standpoint, individuals are wanting to stay in their home environment. They want to avoid emergency departments and hospitals if possible. Those individuals likely still need care from home health organizations and or community-based organizations to meet their needs. COVID-19 allowed home care organizations to step up and care for people and keep them safe in their home environments and free of infection.”
Going from in-person to virtual comes down to scale. “The value of digital is that you are able to attract a broader audience. That is the greatest strength,” said Jeremy Levin, Chief Executive Officer of Ovid Therapeutics and Chair of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
3. What a New Administration Means for Healthcare
Another topic of discussion was what changes to expect to the healthcare industry under US President-elect’s Joe Biden’s administration. It’s feasible to predict, for example, the Affordable Care Act will be strengthened under Biden’s administration, said Andy Slavitt, former Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS). Slavitt clarified that things like Medicaid coverage expansion may be top of mind for those Biden chooses to run governmental agencies like CMS.
Digging deeper, Slavitt clarified that although telehealth itself is pretty bipartisan, telehealth still lacks widespread support from healthcare stakeholders.
“It’s like, everybody says, ‘I’m against surprise medical bills’ except if it hurts me,” Slavitt said. “I think a similar situation will emerge with digital health in that way.”
Bruce Broussard, Chief Executive Officer of Humana, also commented on the potential impact of the Biden administration on healthcare. Broussard said he does not expect significant changes to Medicare Advantage but does anticipate star rating adjustments. Humana, he said, is preparing for these kinds of changes.
"We hear Medicare Advantage is an example of a program that should be carried out in other parts of the healthcare system," he emphasized.
As Broussard told Oliver Wyman last Fall, "It’s an exciting time to be a part of this industry. The pace of change in healthcare right now is phenomenal."