Matt Norton, VP Marketing & Commercial Development, S3 Connected Health

Matt Norton

2021 was a difficult year for pharma, with the pandemic continuing to create new challenges and further highlight existing strains in the healthcare sector.

But that’s not to say that this disruption has been entirely without positives. The past year has seen significant transformation, with learnings from the first twelve months of the pandemic sparking wide-ranging changes across healthcare: think of the evolving relationship between patients and clinicians, the rise in the importance of data, and how health problems are monitored and treated more generally.

This third year of the pandemic is likely to bring further uncertainty, but the innovation we’ve seen so far is set to continue. Here are four key digital health trends I believe will be key for pharma in 2022.


1. Real-world-evidence-based digital health solutions will thrive in 2022

This year will see pharma companies relying more on evidence-based solutions that are better integrated into clinical care pathways; using data, such as patient outcomes, to prove value will be essential.

TrackSMA is an example of this type of solution, where real world evidence is collected with a digital tool that allows the clinical team to complete validated disease assessments in spinal muscular atrophy across multiple countries.

New reimbursement pathways have been created over the past couple of years, helping to build a stronger business case for the development of more innovative, evidence-based solutions. Meanwhile, recent studies show the population is extremely receptive to digital solutions. According to our 2020 study, 71% are willing to use such solutions to support or supplement in-clinic care if offered by their HCP, while 42% saw digital health as more convenient than conventional care.

Two years on, however, we can’t rely on mere hypotheticals. If the uptake in digital triggered by the pandemic is to continue, we need to show the impact on patient outcomes and benefits for healthcare as a direct result of digital health. Pharma must consider how digital health can be used as a strategic tool, and how it can be integrated into their plans  to support not just patients and HCPs but also internal pharma stakeholders; including market access, R&D, medical affairs, and others.


2. Digital solutions will enable new care pathways

Remote care models became widespread in 2021, with telehealth and virtual consultations, in particular, serving as a gateway to digital health.

This trend is set to progress as the familiarity with and desire for digital and virtual healthcare increase. The separation of digital and traditional healthcare will continue to narrow in 2022.

A key driver here is the surge in digital endpoints, which are already driving the expansion of decentralized trials enabled by technology. These digital endpoints have the advantage of being more objective and accurate than those based on patient-reported assessments, and are opening up new care pathways.

This shift towards remote care models will be gradual. Patients have a clear desire to embrace this type of healthcare, but adoption still depends on better integration into established care pathways.


3. Pharma will focus more on digital health platforms as they grow their digital offerings

While many companies will still create point digital health solutions in 2022, there is a clear trend towards adopting a platform approach.; indeed, the 2021 EY Pulse of the Industry Report for healthcare points to multiple examples of large businesses acquiring platforms to expand their digital offerings.

The reason is simple: by making use of digital health platforms, rather than standalone tools, digital health solutions can be deployed across a wide range of therapies and devices. Platforms form a solid base on which digital health solutions can be created, incorporating digital health enterprise software, connected medical devices that utilize an evidence-based, behavioral science approach. The combination leads to data-driven feedback loops that ultimately unlock more hyper-personalized care for patients.


4. Digital companions will be a key part of pharma portfolios going forward

Standalone DTx have received a lot of focus in recent years. 2022 is likely to see the emergence of more digital companion solutions as pharma increases its focus in this area in particular.

While regulatory and reimbursement pathways for standalone DTx are becoming clearer thanks to legislative developments like DiGa in Germany, adoption levels remain relatively low. Pharma can realize a clearer return on investment for digital companion solutions, as they can drive patient engagement and compliance within their existing product portfolio.


Turning predictions into reality

The evolution triggered by the pandemic has unlocked significant opportunities for pharma companies and patients alike. Looking forward into 2022, however, one thing is certain: innovation is of little value unless it’s supported by evidence and followed by uptake. If patients are to benefit from digital health, solutions will need to deliver value not only to them but also meet the needs and goals of all stakeholders including clinicians, healthcare providers, and pharma. Meeting the business goals of pharma can’t be ignored if they are expected to sponsor the development of solutions.

Pharma can develop the necessary tools. Whether it’s digital health platforms, increased use of DTx, or generating real world evidence, the technology and expertise to make these benefits a reality is available. Increasing the momentum and focusing on our shared objective of better healthcare should be the key goal for 2022.