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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Smith

The COVID long tail: Health in the post-pandemic world

Commentators suggest that ‘...very few things could rival COVID-19 for catalyzing and accelerating the long-anticipated transformation of healthcare[i].’ During the initial outbreak, China moved at pace to shift half of all medical care online[ii]. Telemedicine was already reaching a turning point in Asia-Pacific. COVID has prompted the number of new users on Ping An Good Doctor, a Chinese healthcare services platform, to rise nearly 900 percent in January 2020, compared with a year prior[iii]. Big tech is likely to feature in this emerging ecosystem - Apple's ‘healthcare plans now extends beyond adding features to AppleWatch, as it researches photomedicine techniques for use in opthalmology and surgery[iv].’

Healthcare will be moving toward patient-centric models that seek to prevent disease as much as cure it. Although new regulatory, organisational and business models would be needed, 96 percent agree that the future of healthcare will be people-driven[v], while 68 percent expect this scenario to be the norm in major healthcare markets by 2030. Personalised healthcare remains the holy grail, but not the only issue to deal with.

Could COVID accelerate the sentiment expressed in Davos 2020 that mental health should be a social and economic imperative[vi]? ‘Governments must find evidence-based ways to boost the resilience of our societies and ... to treat those with mental ill health remotely to come out of this pandemic in good mental health[vii].’ Since the mental health problem could be so widespread, any solution could feature business involvement to a greater degree than at present, for example by providing therapy access or modifying work conditions if necessary. Moment-to-moment monitoring of anxiety and depression could feature, using digital technology, machine learning, AI counselling[viii] and an on-demand deployment of evidence-based treatments. AI is already able to detect depression[ix].

Advanced analytics, human-centric product design, appetite for risk and flexible business models will all be key. Such features are likely requisite for pharma companies. ‘The payers, providers, and pharmaceutical companies that gain experience and build partnerships now will be in the best position to grow with the industry and benefit from the coming waves of innovation[x].’ In some cases, these partnerships may appear counter-intuitive; witness the emergence of cigarette makers as possible sources of a COVID-19 vaccine[xi].

Using living organisms to make products or manipulate existing processes could fuel innovation across healthcare, wellness and pharma itself. If DNA does indeed emerge as the new silicon as is suggested, Wired proclaims that ‘…biology will be the next great computing platform[xii].’ Pharma straddles many of these changing areas, but is not guaranteed to thrive in them. The broad healthcare market will be reconstituted, with the ‘location,’ main players and even purpose all redrawn in the post-COVID environment.

Key changes

· The where, how and ‘with who’ of healthcare.

· Tech driven models, from digital health to biotech innovation.

· Patient driven healthcare.

Read about how change could unfold, over 40 different sectors, in our ‘Big Break’ report, accessible for free via

[i] Source: Modern Healthcare, 2020 [ii] Source: LA Times, 2020 [iii] Source: Bain, 2020 [iv] Source: Apple Insider, 2020 [v] Source: Strategy&, 2020 [vi] Source: Forbes, 2020 [vii] Source: Medscape, 2020 [viii] Source: Guardian, 2019 [ix] Source: MedicalXpress, 2019 [x] Source: McKinsey, 2020 [xi] Source: Bloomberg, 2020 [xii] Source: Wired, 2017

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