January 4, 2021
The year 2020 was unlike any other. COVID-19 changed the way we live, work and function, and shined a bright light on healthcare — from the dramatic disparities in the health of our neighbors, to the risks associated with being a healthcare provider, to the process behind “inventing” drugs — and changed the consumer mindset for good.
With this shift in awareness, conversations — and media coverage — about healthcare access, delivery and equity have become more prevalent. Challenges and storylines that languished for years in the inner circles of medicine and health policy were thrust into mainstream discussions. The problems and solutions aren’t new — but the necessity and urgency around them certainly are.
As communicators, we may not have crystal balls for the new year’s news cycle, but we can spot and anticipate trends — thus helping to identify opportunities for clients. My colleague Gil Bashe already masterfully identified 10 health advances the pandemic will continue to drive forward. But what will reporters be watching and doing this year?
Here are three stories that are already making headlines — and will continue unfolding in 2021:
Parts of pandemic life will persist in the post-vaccine world, such as adding Zoom to your normal day-to-day activities, including your medical appointments. Telemedicine had low adoption rates pre-pandemic, but the virtual is now here to stay. As Modern Healthcare’s technology and innovation reporter Jessica Kim Cohen recently reported, hospitals see telehealth sticking around because virtual appointments increase access to quality medical care and create a convenient option to ensure healthcare continuity. “Even for those that might still be figuring out how best to use telehealth, it’s something that they don't see as a short-term kind of COVID response,” Cohen said. The next bridges to cross (and stories to tell): how telehealth is impacting clinicians, and how stakeholders across the health ecosystem can help to ensure it remains a viable, and vital, tool for patient care and engagement.
2. Decentralized Clinical Trials
In addition to its uses in information computation and analysis, artificial intelligence is being tapped to diversify clinical trial participants. With all eyes on the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine development, the industry is hearing a call to action to address the lack of diversity in clinical trials. Adam Feuerstein, senior writer, biotech at STAT, recognized the need for more diversity during a virtual event, citing that clinical trial demographics haven’t been diverse in quite some time. While companies across the industry have the best intentions, sometimes it comes down to who signs up for the trials. A concerted, cross-industry approach is needed. Adam’s team at STAT, for example, is committed to “including the demographic profile of clinical trials” in their reporting. By asking what steps your clients are taking on this front, you can help to not only advance the dialogue, but the overall effort — and ultimately, public health.
3. Supply Chain
The COVID-19 vaccine production — not to mention the explosion of online ordering and reliance on e-commerce for daily items — also turned the world’s attention to shipping and supply chain. In a round-up on big ideas in healthcare innovation, Katie Adams, writer for Becker’s Hospital Review, quoted Mass General Brigham’s chief innovation officer in saying healthcare supply chains need to be restructured and optimized. Healthcare industry stories reveal innovation is happening at every point of product development, from the research bench to the medicine cabinet (or operating room, or infusion center), right through to the experience of the end user. Not only should the medical breakthroughs grab the headlines; so, too, should the myriad improvements and technology applications on the journey from the lab to patients’ hands. With greater consumer appreciation for these intricacies, such news stories promise to continue — providing opportunities for clients to share insight and expertise on the end-to-end process of innovation.
As we jump into 2021, we can be reenergized by the potential for innovation. This year will address these three drivers of healthcare, as well as many others, to shape the way this country delivers healthcare. As Gil Bashe shared, “COVID-19 is an unexpected force for societal change.” As communicators, we can give voice to these changes — helping to usher along shifts in healthcare that will transform patients’ lives for the better.
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