The enduring innovation and behaviour changes from COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the shift to a more resilient, agile and innovative digitally-enabled world within healthcare and pharma. But the best companies are going further – by enhancing and expanding their digital channels they are using this as an opportunity for enduring change. Continuing our series on digital health and COVID-19, David Reilly examines major shifts in patient care and healthcare provision resulting from the pandemic and explores which of these changes are likely to stay.

Neurologists say that it takes around 90 days for new bridges to form between synapses in our brain. If we interpret this as the time for new habits to emerge, then we have now had long enough for our new behaviours in the COVID-19 world to become entrenched habits, and for these to have meaningful consequences and enduring impact.

Here are just a few behaviours that have emerged and evolved during the pandemic, and are likely to stick around once we are out of lockdown.

Mobile apps

Mobile devices initially showed great promise, with UK health secretary Matt Hancock saying that the “tide” of digital technology approaching the NHS should be “embraced”.

However, the UK government was forced to abandon its widely-hyped ‘track and trace’ mobile app – which collected personal information to try and mitigate the risk of spread – in favour of using services developed by Apple and Google.

“Novartis has used the lockdown to re-invent its relationship with start-ups and the NHS through the development of its Biome, a global network of innovation hubs”

While showing great potential, the app also exposed wider concerns with privacy and data collection. Post COVID, the UK government needs to understand the challenge of trust and capturing mobile data.

As Paul Dixey, multichannel lead at Novartis explains, “People are still very anxious about the UK government or private companies, e.g. Google, capturing and using personal data.”

Remote view consultations

The adoption of remote telemedicine has been immediate and at unprecedented levels throughout lockdown, and there has been a notable accelerated trend towards virtual care.

NHS doctors have been encouraged to hold consultations via video to avoid putting themselves, and vulnerable patients, in danger. But this move has not been without its challenges. Having access to the internet can be difficult for those on low incomes or older demographics who do not routinely use technology. In addition, virtual consultations with first-time patients can be limited when assessing treatments, reading body language or recognising key symptoms.

Overall, many clinicians and HCPs believe the practice of remote virtual consultations accelerated during COVID-19 will become a valuable tool for them in the long term – for example in triaging new patients and especially those that live a long way from the hospitals.

In addition, many businesses outside of healthcare, from Twitter to BT call centres, have already announced that their employees can have the option to work from home permanently. This step is likely to further support the case for more remote video consultations between patients and HCPS.

Digital remote engagement access

As COVID has increased the use of remote access by HCPs through secure digital platforms, a priority for the future will be delivering quality experiences through new tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom or webinars.

The key is in the execution and the need to deliver consistent, high-quality digital content experiences to HCPs in the front line. If executed correctly, this can deliver very positive results for pharma clients.

“We have seen very high webinar engagement with HCPs,” says Dixey. “The challenge is to keep content highly relevant, engaging and up to date. Healthcare professionals still need to learn, and will still need to access medical education and scientific content, especially as we are seeing in-person conferences drastically reduced.”

Novartis has also used the lockdown to re-invent its relationship with start-ups and the NHS through the development of its Biome, a global network of innovation hubs aimed at strengthening the connection and interaction between Novartis and tech partners.

Irfan Mohammed, strategic partnerships lead for Biome, explains: “The pandemic challenged our agility in pivoting around the changing needs of the NHS and co-create effective sustainable solutions while in isolation. It has also helped us clarify what we are good at and where we can strengthen our digital and data capability through collaboration.

“I think we will see a different relationship between pharma and the NHS in the future, and the Biome provides a dedicated environment in which to ask the right questions and build long term sustainable digital solutions.”

Agile by default

The seeds of agile thinking, process and more outside collaboration have been a central strategic thread pre-COVID – and the pandemic has merely accelerated its vital importance.

Angus Evans, marketing manager at Galen explains, “Being Agile is now of paramount importance to Galen and I am seeing a lot more internal collaboration and use of agile thinking in lockdown.

“Agile helps marketing teams become more innovative, respond to marketplace trends and customer behaviours faster, and I can foresee more agile working across the industry as we emerge out of lockdown.”

The deployment of agile will continue and it will become more and more vital throughout the pandemic.

Supply chains

Having a full-functioning and robust supply chain has taken on special importance throughout the lockdown, and this will endure as a strategic priority.

Taking an end-to-end view across the value chain to assess the implications from the pandemic has also highlighted the vital importance of emerging technologies like blockchain and AI in enabling the process to work more efficiently with greater transparency.

We can foresee a massive restructuring generally of supply chains for strategic products such as drugs, diagnostics, personal safety and equipment driven by national governmental actions with this forming a key element of lessons learned from the lockdown.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the global disruption it has caused, has demonstrated the vital need for pharma organisations to adopt agile, innovative and digitally-focused services for HCPs, payers and patients that will endure and evolve as we emerge out of lockdown.

About the author

David Reilly is founder of Let’s Learn Digital, delivering training in digital sales strategy, corporate innovation, and emerging technologies to the pharma industry.