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Access to quality healthcare and medication is perhaps the most important human need that we face today. However, that’s easier said than done. While strides have been made to better connect consumers with pharma providers, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that the industry sought to change how consumers receive care.
Spurred by nationwide stay-at-home orders and heightened health safety, we saw consumer preferences drastically change as more and more patients opted to receive prescriptions and care directly at home. Almost two years and an in-flux of direct-to-consumer (D2C) platforms later, this shift in preferences has remained the same.
This shift has not only created new ways for providers to reach patients where they are (their homes), but it has opened up the healthcare industry to smaller pharmaceutical companies that otherwise would not have stood a chance competing against the larger, legacy companies. Essentially, the shift to virtual care spurred by the pandemic has helped democratize the pharmaceutical industry — benefiting patients, providers and pharma alike.
Soaring prescription drug costs and access to healthcare are two of the industry’s primary challenges. But with the widespread acceptance and adoption of new healthcare technologies, many pharma and health tech companies are stepping up to address these issues.
For example, health tech companies improved prescription price transparency by offering comparisons of various prescription drug prices and providing discount pricing through various partnerships with U.S. pharmacies.1 In addition, partnerships between pharmaceutical companies and health tech platforms allow newer, lesser-known brands to reach a wider audience while also increasing available prescription drug options from which patients can choose. Health tech platforms create an ecosystem that links stakeholders to patients, eliminating much of the friction patients suffer trying to access timely, affordable healthcare.
This shift in D2C offerings is only just beginning. Health tech companies are creating platforms that serve all stakeholders (providers, caregivers, manufactures, etc.) by creating a system that gives the patient better control of their health and their options, leading to improved health outcomes.2 For example, Amazon has been building its pharmacy offerings for several years, but in 2020 officially entered the pharmacy business by allowing customers in the U.S. to order prescription medications for home delivery.
Having access to all health touch points in one seamless location is incredibly beneficial for patients. It also provides opportunities for new or smaller pharma companies to break into the market. For example, my company, Vytal, recently partnered with telehealth service provider GenieMD in order to provide patients a singular space to conduct virtual visits, order medication and manage prescriptions.3 Partnerships like this also benefit health tech companies because they now have direct access to patients and can provide them the medication when and where the patient needs it.
As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, one thing will remain consistent — consumers’ will want and expect medication and healthcare services to be readily available at their fingertips. According to McKinsey, tele health use has increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline,4 as a result patients expect, and deserve, options and access when it comes to healthcare. From requesting or transferring prescriptions from a patient’s doctor to having them automatically refilled and continuously delivered to patients with little effort on their end, pharma democratization will only continue to grow.
Already, we’re seeing positive outcomes due to virtual care,5 like improved attendance of healthcare visits, better medication adherence and more access. Patients can anticipate seeing more and more partnerships, funding, and acquisitions happening in this space, giving them more opportunities for seamless and efficient healthcare monitoring. There will be greater use of data analytics, specifically to provide insights back to the patient to solve problems along the patient journey. This could include a deeper understanding of behavioral and lifestyle changes, a more personalized and accessible health and wellness experience, or greater transparency across medication.
Healthcare technologies continue to evolve every day, making it easier and more efficient to reach consumers wherever and whenever they prefer. With the pandemic having heightened consumers’ desire for more seamless experiences, the democratization of the pharma industry is only in its infancy. I, like others in the space, look forward to the development of technologies and startups in healthtech working to put consumers first by streamlining all aspects of pharmaceutical development and distribution.
Jeremy V. Gross is co-founder and CEO of Vytal.