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The Healthcare Industry in 2019 — Where are we Headed?

WE Communications Blog: Health

2/13/2019
— Health Sector Team 

We’re only a month into 2019 and already healthcare industry headlines are catching our attention. There have been some major acquisitions, some interesting trends that came out of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference and notable technology innovations being launched.

So what trends can we expect for the rest of the year? And more important, how are these trends affecting communication strategies?

 

It’s all about the price

We’re going to see movement and innovation when it comes to healthcare costs and value-based pricing, and discussion on this topic is coming from a variety of angles.

For example, starting January 1, 2019, CMS now requires hospitals to update their public price lists annually online, which has resulted in chatter about how the regulation will be enforced and different healthcare organizations’ strategies as they make their pricing transparent. Additionally, we’re seeing discussion on the payer side as companies look to create value-based pricing models. They still need to work through obstacles, such as the feasibility of subscription pricing, where fees are paid monthly, quarterly or annually in exchange for a wide assortment of enhanced services, for chronic diseases or one-time treatments for rare diseases.

This was a big topic at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. Expect to see continued debates on the topic and partnerships as the industry tries to determine a mutually beneficial path forward for all parties involved.

The key to external communications will be transparency — what research led to your organization’s pricing strategy, how does the payment method work, how is this different than current industry standards and do you have proven use cases or partners? These are all questions that media and other stakeholders will ask as consumers become more empowered to comparison shop for their healthcare options.

 

Who’s acquiring who?

There was no shortage of M&A activity as the year began, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. We had Bristol-Myers Squibb’s planned $74B acquisition of Celgene, followed quickly by Lilly’s (formerly Eli Lilly) $8B purchase of Loxo Oncology. And, although it’s a different sector, we can’t forget the major $69B merger between CVS and Aetna at the end of last year, which is still being finalized. With these major deals and investors chattering, it looks like the trend toward more M&A is going to continue.

In order to cut upfront costs, larger companies may look toward small specialty firms as a way of outsourcing their R&D. Or we may see a move by Amazon, which has made gestures toward entering the space, although we haven’t seen a firm commitment from them on their healthcare plans.

This is a key time for organizations to differentiate themselves through both messaging and strategy:

  • Make sure to call out what sets you apart from competitors in your space.
  • Have a presence at vertical-specific events instead of general healthcare conferences.
  • Investigate unique partnership opportunities.
  • Highlight interesting customer use cases through traditional and social media. This will help organizations maintain a unique presence in their industry, catch the eye of an acquirer or potential acquisition, and stay above the fray if a giant like Amazon enters the market.

 

Moving beyond AI hype

In 2018, companies in every industry (not just healthcare), plugged unique uses of AI to differentiate themselves from competitors — but few showcased practical applications.

In 2019, expect to see more concrete examples of AI-driven healthcare innovation. According to Accenture, key clinical health AI applications can potentially create $150B in annual savings for the US healthcare economy by 2026. We’re going to see AI emerge in a variety of tactics and practices, beginning with chatbots and extending into medical imaging, prescription and dosage protocols, and personal health management. For example, GE showed AI apps and smart devices at HIMSS this year, highlighting its new Edison platform.

In order to stand above the noise, organizations should highlight the value of their AI innovations and truly showcase how the technology benefits the end user, whether it is a hospital, consumer-facing or an IT department. This can be done by sharing real-world use cases of the technology at work , proving its application and moving beyond the hype.

It’s going to be an exciting year for the healthcare industry, with a lot of industry-shifting trends and innovations entering the market. Given the rapid pace of change and R&D, expect some big surprises throughout 2019.