Rebooting the healthcare system post-COVID-19

Janssen’s Iris Zemzoum looks at seven ways the healthcare and pharma sectors need to change in the wake of COVID-19.

The global healthcare system we knew before the COVID-19 pandemic now looks very different. This novel coronavirus has changed us, and our practices, in so many different ways, and processes throughout the healthcare network are being challenged – but it is a challenge that also provides an opportunity to reset and re-think.

For companies like Janssen, our top priority remains our patients, customers and employees. We are partnering with global and local health authorities to address immediate and long-term healthcare needs, and there is a clearer alignment of priorities than we have ever seen before. Public need, political will, scientific technologies and the entire healthcare community have all come together to focus on the same global public health goal.

This short-term alignment is also a roadmap for what might be possible if we really commit to ensuring healthcare is sustainable in the long-term.

The global healthcare market is a near $12 trillion industry. It is huge, both in scale and complexity, with systems made up of multiple layers and supply chains that interconnect on so many levels. But alongside the macro is the micro: we’re incredibly close to the people we serve, and we must never let up on the innovation that improves lives on a daily basis.

At Janssen, innovation means finding new treatments, new techniques and new ways of working that have tangible benefits for our patients. We are committed to pursuing innovation across the company, from driving policy change and collaborating to transform the very system in which we operate, to developing technologies that help patients to be more informed and active in their own treatment.

“In the future we may again suddenly be confronted by the need to reset our priorities, accelerate processes and pivot into areas we ordinarily wouldn’t have identified”

But without access, innovation is wasted invention. To ensure that patients can always access the treatments they need, we must continue to reboot our healthcare systems and prepare us for the future. Here are some ways that this can be achieved.

1. We must create scientific innovation that’s needed, providing value to the healthcare system and society as a whole

Across the industry, excellent people and brilliant minds are hard at work developing vaccines we hope will potentially end the pandemic. But we’re also going to need innovation for the challenges beyond COVID-19.

We can’t hide from the fact that many patients with other serious illnesses remain in desperate need right now, and will need and seek help once all this is over. In our company, with thousands of people working in R&D, we have been able to pivot and divert our resources to help the fight against the novel coronavirus. But it’s not an all-or-nothing approach – we’re built for times like these, and we have maintained our activity in other therapeutic areas, such as cancer.

2. We need to support HCPs with technology that lets them access and filter information in a manageable way, giving them more time for their patients

I’ve spent many years working on the front lines of care. From my personal experience in the day-to-day role, it is often difficult to spend as much time as possible with the people you are trying to help. I recall getting caught up in conflicting scenarios and the pressures of multi-tasking, and so I know just how valuable the right technology can be for HCPs. Technology can free up extra time for the patients who most need support. It’s important we identify these meaningful innovations and develop them to the best version they can be.

3. We need to build a relationship of trust with patients, and ensure they can find reliable and readily accessible information on their own

Healthcare systems and patient needs are especially complex and the ability to demonstrate value is becoming more important than ever. The road from disease identification to patient treatment is a long one, often involving many twists and turns along the regulatory, reimbursement and distribution journey.

We dedicate ourselves to discovering, developing and delivering transformational medicines. We push the bounds of science to deliver that promise. Most importantly, we are resolved to deliver our medicines to the patients who need them in a manner that is affordable and provides local value.

We must also recognise that, as patients increasingly become experts of their own disease, the next step should go beyond a unidirectional provision of information. Patients should be partners and supported not just through the management of their condition, but also as decision-makers in their own right. They can provide critical insights about the disease experience that we can’t really get anywhere else. By collaborating with patients and involving them early in product development for example, we created an assessment tool for psoriasis that shifted the focus away from the number of skin lesions visible to the impact of the disease.

So, as we are able to provide education on the efficacy of our medicines, patients can share their knowledge learned through personal experience, which is truly valuable.

4. We need to continue to understand and target diseases

Putting our R&D resources in the right places means investing in technology to refine how we target diseases in the first place. The dawning of predictive and preventative medicine has happened because of technologies such as genetics and genomics, biomarker identification and artificial intelligence, and they’re all improving our ability to understand the underlying causes of disease.

In areas like neuroscience, where innovation is very difficult but critically important, we are now starting to see how we might apply these technologies to predict who may develop Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. It’s truly remarkable. One of our own Alzheimer’s experts is on this hunt – Simon Lovestone and his team are developing a memory test, which can be used through a tablet or smartphone, to assess whether a person is able to recall words that have been spoken out loud.

5. We need to prepare for times like now repeating in the future.

As COVID-19 has so devastatingly shown, we may suddenly be confronted by the need to reset our priorities, accelerate processes and pivot into areas we ordinarily wouldn’t have identified. Necessity truly is the mother of invention, and we must be ready to harness the latest tools, share knowledge and resources, and fuel the sorts of global collaborations that will mean we’re even more prepared for the future.

6. We need to build diverse teams consisting of the best minds.

A major factor in being able to innovate, evolve and tackle the most pressing healthcare challenges is ensuring we are a diverse team. Diversity is integral to our business and is typically a hallmark of those departments and companies that push the boundaries of science and healthcare.

I believe leaders need to make a conscious effort to ensure their teams represent the diversity of the patients that they are working for. By creating an inclusive environment, people with different backgrounds and experiences can share their unique ideas, learnings and perspectives to develop creative and novel solutions. Precisely what is needed to tackle both this pandemic and the diseases of the future.

7. We need to collaborate

We know collaboration is crucial, because the best solutions are so often created by teams that extend far beyond just one company or organisation. We are sharing data with health institutions and our peers to better understand our patients, now and going forward, so we can respond quickly to their needs.

The days of individual organisations working in isolation to deliver their own priorities are long gone. As the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sums up, when talking about pursuing treatments for COVID-19:

“[We must] ensure that when they are developed, they can be mass-produced quickly, and—most important—are accessible, available, and affordable. Achieving that requires a commitment to international cooperation across governments, the private sector, and multilateral institutions on an unprecedented scale.”

The pandemic has shown the urgent need for a reboot of the entire healthcare system. It is time to be inclusive, innovative and collaborative, and to seize the opportunity in front of us.

About the author

Iris Zemzoum is vice president, EMEA Strategy Organisation at Janssen. Iris joined Johnson & Johnson in December 2012 as managing director for Janssen Germany. Before joining Johnson & Johnson she held different European medical and commercial roles with increasing responsibilities within Bristol-Myers-Squibb.