Q&A with Amy West, Head of US Digital Health & Innovation Strategy at Novo Nordisk

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Amy West, Head of US Digital Health & Innovation Strategy at Novo Nordisk, shares her insights on fostering collaboration, embracing change, and her compelling vision to revolutionize digital transformation and innovation in the field of healthcare.

Over the course of 25 years, Amy West, the head of US digital transformation & innovation at Novo Nordisk, has established herself as a seasoned marketing strategist and a distinguished leader in the commercial healthcare sector. Her unwavering dedication to improving patient experiences and outcomes through cutting-edge technologies and innovations has made her a driving force in the industry.

As the visionary behind Novo Nordisk's innovation incubator, Apis Labs, West has played a pivotal role in shaping customer experience and digital innovation strategies, keeping pace with the ever-evolving healthcare landscape. She shares her insights on fostering collaboration, embracing change, and her compelling vision to revolutionize digital transformation and innovation in the field of healthcare.

Pharmaceutical Executive: What are some of the current disparities for access to healthcare and therapies? What can help bridge the gap?

Amy West: Health equity should be a fundamental principle—full stop. If we can all agree on anything, it should be ensuring that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.

But the reality is, of course, messier. Disparities in access to healthcare and therapies persist, stemming from various factors that shape our health beyond our genes and lifestyle choices, like social determinants of health (SDoH) and systemic challenges. Here’s an example: Rock Health’s 2020 Consumer Adoption Report1 found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 53% of LGBTQ+ respondents delayed or avoided medical care compared to 41% of non-LGBTQ+-identifying respondents. The study also found that despite the recent expansion of telehealth adoption, distance still limits access to care for many Native American and rural patients. In short, too many communities continue to struggle to access quality healthcare.

We can do better. To bridge the gap, we need to explore innovative approaches that meet individuals where they are based on their needs and preferences. Technology can play a pivotal role by empowering individuals with better access and control over their health. Creating Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) environments that leverage technology to bring healthcare directly to those with limited access or flexibility can be transformative. We are starting to see it in action, not surprisingly from young innovators and startups. Companies like Health in Her HUE2 are connecting black women and women of color to culturally sensitive healthcare providers, evidence-based health content, and community support, which is a step towards reducing disparities. It’s only the beginning of what’s possible, and it’s exciting to see where we will go next and how quickly we will get there.

PE: What impact does health inequity have on specific populations?

AW: Health inequity, closely linked with social or economic disadvantage, significantly affects specific populations in the United States. This includes socioeconomically disadvantaged populations and underserved rural populations. According to the CDC, the decline in overall life expectancy in the United States in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 was significantly more pronounced for Black and Hispanic individuals.

COVID-19 has intensified these disparities, leading to disproportionate impacts on vulnerable groups. For instance, individuals who were uninsured for a year or longer were more likely to be young, Latinx/Hispanic, poor, sicker, and living in the South, as reported by the Commonwealth Fund. It's essential to recognize that race and age play significant roles in health disparities. For instance, Hispanics have a higher rate of being uninsured, and immigrant communities and wage workers may struggle to access affordable coverage, pushing them towards using emergency rooms as their primary care and hindering preventive care utilization.

The numbers paint a clear picture that can’t be denied: poverty is strongly correlated with poorer health outcomes and an increased risk of premature death. The lack of access to healthcare, education, and healthy behaviors perpetuates disparities that can endure across generations.

PE: How can technology empower individuals to overcome access challenges in healthcare?

AW: Technology holds immense potential in empowering individuals to overcome access challenges in healthcare. By providing flexible, user-friendly digital health solutions, we can bridge geographical, financial, and technological barriers. Telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, and virtual care platforms bring healthcare directly to people's homes, reducing the burden of travel and expenses associated with clinic visits.

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Additionally, digital health apps, wearable devices, and the Internet enable individuals to take charge of their health by tracking vital signs, monitoring chronic conditions, and accessing evidence-based health information. SMART environments, driven by technology, can deliver personalized care and interventions catering to individual needs and preferences. By putting the focus of control in the hands of patients, we empower them to actively manage their health and well-being in more efficient and cost-effective ways, regardless of their access challenges. It’s important to note, though, from an equity standpoint, there are still many who do not have access to digital technologies. This will change over time, but the disparity still exists today.

PE: How does health inequity impact the efforts of pharmaceutical companies to improve patient outcomes?

AW: Health inequity poses significant challenges to pharmaceutical companies striving to improve patient outcomes. Addressing disparities requires a comprehensive approach that considers the diverse needs of underserved populations. Access barriers can impede patients from accessing and adhering to essential medications, which, in turn, hampers treatment efficacy and health outcomes.

Pharmaceutical companies must be cognizant of these challenges and work collaboratively to implement targeted interventions that understand the individual human needs of a diverse population leading multifaceted lives. From my perspective, these efforts should include prioritizing incorporating social determinants of health attributes and data in combination with clinical data, enhancing patient education, collaborating with healthcare providers in underserved communities, and developing pricing and access programs that support patients with financial constraints. By actively addressing health inequity, pharmaceutical companies can contribute to closing the gap in patient outcomes and fostering a more equitable healthcare system.

PE: How can the healthcare industry and policymakers collaborate to promote health equity and reduce disparities?

AW: In simplest terms, promoting health equity and reducing disparities requires a united effort between the healthcare industry and policymakers.

Everyone has a role to play. For example, legislators and policymakers play a crucial role in shaping the legislative and regulatory landscape to better support patients and to allow the industry to better support patients, while the healthcare industry can drive change through innovative strategies and interventions.

Collaboration efforts can focus on increasing funding for research and initiatives that address health disparities, improving access to care for vulnerable populations, and fostering diversity and cultural competence within the healthcare workforce. In 2023, this should be table stakes; by now, policymakers should make it a point to work with industry stakeholders to develop policies that incentivize investments in underserved communities and innovative solutions that target specific health disparities.

Additionally, public-private partnerships can foster cross-sector collaboration, combining the expertise and resources of both industry and policymakers to create sustainable solutions. By working hand in hand, the healthcare industry and policymakers can make significant strides towards achieving health equity and ensuring that all individuals have access to quality care and therapies, fostering a healthier and more equitable society.

Health equity remains a paramount goal—and collaborative efforts from industry and policymakers are vital in overcoming disparities and ensuring that every individual has equitable access to quality healthcare and therapies, fostering a healthier and more equitable society.

References

  1. DeSilva, J.; Prensky-Pomeranz, R.; Zweig, M. Digital Health Consumer Adoption Report 2020. Rock Health. February 26, 2021. https://rockhealth.com/insights/digital-health-consumer-adoption-report-2020/
  2. Find a Provider. Health in Her HUE. https://healthinherhue.com