At Last Digital Transformation is Embraced by the Healthcare Industry
Author: Susan Maue, Managing Director, PharmaLex US
The future of healthcare that we envision in 2040 will be a world apart from the current status quo. Emerging technology has become an integral part of our everyday personal and work environment and the healthcare industry is no different.
While digital transformation in life sciences has previously lagged, it is evident that recent events have worked as a catalyst for change. If companies want to stay competitive and meet the evolving needs and demands of patients and payers, there is strong evidence to support the need for restructuring business models and adapting to new technologies. So, why has there historically been such slow adoption of new technology?
Firstly, there is a lack of understanding around the range of technologies that are currently available and evolving, and it is now clear who within an organization should implement digital transformation. The second challenge is the lack of internal know-how and the need to recruit digital expertise or partner with an expert company. Lastly, many organizations hesitate to invest large amounts into an area where they lack a comprehensive understanding and therefore the ability to predict the return on their investment.
A Catalyst for Change
It is almost a cliché to say that COVID-19 has catalyzed life sciences and healthcare trends – but it’s true. The pandemic has caused a global health crisis that has changed the life sciences ecosystem. The healthcare industry has had to adopt new technologies to continue to develop their products and to also aid pharmaceutical companies in their mission to treat COVID-19. Key industry changes have affected regulatory compliance, potentially altering the future of clinical trials, and revolutionizing business and patient engagement models. But will these accelerated advances introduced during the COVID-19 crisis remain in the post-pandemic arena?
COVID-19 has significantly changed the face of the life sciences industry, both in the way it is perceived by the public and also in the way it operates
A Positive Impact on the Industry
There are many instances in which technology has shown a powerful and positive impact on the industry. Digital-first businesses, patient engagement models, and decentralized clinical trials are but a few. But what technology also enables is the ability to demonstrate greater resilience in planning, resourcing, and performance of activities – especially during product development and of course when re-thinking how to leverage data across different organizations. It is this, coupled with the opportunity to reduce time-to-market, which makes the digital transformation so effective.
Even before the emergence of COVID-19, virtual audits offered a way to reduce the time and expense of site-based audits, whilst ensuring they challenges and checked all relevant systems and procedures.
As the pandemic has necessitated regional, national, and international lockdowns, onsite audits have become not just inconvenient or unsafe, but often impossible. Also, the urgent need for new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines has made careful quality assurance processes more important than ever.
Postponing audits simply was not an acceptable option, and rescheduling audits created a risk of backlogs that could put further strain on resources and create unacceptable delays when site-based visits were reintroduced. The industry has had to think outside the box and consider options perhaps previously discounted. There are many tools available to facilitate comprehensive facility tours. These include:
Google Maps – to provide a street view of the site.
Drones – to provide options for viewing around and inside the facility.
Live streaming via mobile technologies such as a 360-degree camera – to enable more detailed views.
In-site cameras – to give auditors the ability to review video or recordings from the operations floor.
Photographs and facility blueprints – to offer additional facility details.
Emerging technology – to combine approaches for an even more realistic experience. Consider 3D mapping or augmented reality (AR) that overlays CAD drawings onto a video that is recorded using a mobile 360-degree camera, or a virtual reality (VR) demonstration of activities that simulates real-world scenarios in a safe, remote environment.
Looking to the Future
We should be asking – what have we learned, and will we maintain the momentum that the pandemic has created? COVID-19 has significantly changed the face of the life sciences industry, both in the way it is perceived by the public and also in the way it operates.
However, there remain several unknowns that could affect the future of the pharmaceutical and R&D industries. Will the unprecedented level of cross-industry cooperation and partnership that we are seeing today foster a new collaborative innovation model? We’d like to think so, but should it have taken a global pandemic to realize the potential benefits and how can we ensure we leverage the opportunities this has given us in the future?
The pandemic may also accelerate the entry of new players into the market, as they invest in health monitoring devices and platforms for virtual engagement. We have learned of discussions around COVID passports to enable safe international travel, witnessed an increased demand for home blood-oxygen monitors, and seen a new vigor for maintaining a healthy lifestyle with the desire to keep track using your mobile device. The pandemic has certainly struck a chord, and not just with how we develop and maintain products. It has also driven a greater demand from the patient population. We can be reassured that technology will play a significant role well beyond the COVID-19 ‘normality.’ Our lifestyles have changed significantly, with an increasing reliance on having information available on-demand. We can get the latest information on infection rates, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations via tracking apps on our smartphones; health appointments are routinely done using video conferencing; we have access to at-home, rapid testing that provides immediate results and could facilitate the opening of entertainment venues, greater flexibility for hospitality, and the freedom to enjoy international travel once more. But will this represent the new normal? For the industry to keep up with patients’ expectations, some of these changes will need to continue and even develop further to ensure the availability of safe products for patients when they need them. With discussions having started at the governmental/country level on how to design tomorrow’s critical healthcare infrastructure supported by cutting-edge, enabling technologies, we can, at last, be confident that the healthcare industry is acknowledging the importance of digital transformation.
To remain competitive, to develop and maintain their products, and to ensure a healthy patient population, businesses, and leaders will have to step aboard.