Robert RosenbloomFrom patients to caregivers, associations to pharmaceutical companies, COVID-19 ignited transformative digital innovations across healthcare. Robert Rosenbloom, our CEO, reflects on 2020 and looks to the year ahead.

No one would argue that 2020 was a challenging year. Our healthcare system strains under overwhelming need, communities struggle through economic depression, and COVID-19 shapes all aspects of our daily lives. Yet in working through these challenges, we are seeing transformative changes that will have a profound and lasting impact across the entire sector.

Some of those changes can be clearly seen in the patient journey. Prior to the pandemic, less than 0.01% of all outpatient visits were telehealth visits. By mid-April, it was up to nearly 70%, and it has now settled at around 21%. Gone are the days of visiting your provider for your every health need. Instead, a more holistic, patient-centered approach is emerging. One that sees a blend of in-person and telehealth visits supported by a broader digital ecosystem of trusted information, patient and provider education, and communities and associations.

Associations and advocacy groups have similarly experienced a seismic shift in how they support their patient and caregiver communities. In March, we started to see in-person conferences and events getting canceled. That left organizations scrambling to adjust their community engagement, education, and revenue strategies without a clear sense of when or even if they would be able to bring back in-person events. By May, a new norm set in: the virtual conference. However, Zoom fatigue, balancing work with at-home priorities, and the “something’s missing” feeling made it clear very quickly that the in-person experience cannot be replicated 1:1 in a digital format.

Here’s the thing though: We should not try to replicate it. Think of a company like Amazon. Amazon is not trying to recreate the in-person shopping experience. It is creating something new and different: A digital experience that builds upon successful traditional shopping strategies while producing innovations that can only happen in the digital space.

We are now seeing organizations like National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), GBS-CIDP Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America take a similarly different, fresh approach to their community building and education efforts. Rather than relying on big in-person events, these organizations are offering a mix of live and ongoing digital education and engagement opportunities that their communities can tap into whenever is best for them. And with it all being digital, we can measure the impact of these strategies in tremendous detail – something that is near impossible to accomplish with big, in-person events.

We are seeing others across the healthcare sector – particularly pharmaceutical companies – trying to tackle their own version of the same question: How can we develop connections and make an impact in the digital space? Providers’ heightened health and safety concerns brought on by COVID-19, along with the new foundational role of telehealth have effectively put an end to the mainstay strategies of visiting a doctor’s office or taking a lunch meeting. Just as it is with associations, successful relationship building for pharmaceutical companies will depend on digital education and engagement strategies tailored to the ever-evolving needs of the healthcare community.

From patients to caregivers, associations to pharmaceutical companies, 2020 left us all scrambling to find new answers to long-standing questions. How can we ensure patients get trustworthy, actionable education in a holistic, tailored way? How do we evaluate the success of our outreach, education, and community building? How can we create deep, meaningful relationships with patients, providers, and partners? Looking back on the past year, the sector’s primary focus was on delivery: How we deliver education, how we reach our audiences. Looking ahead, I am excited for the focus to shift to opportunities we can only get with digital: real time engagement metrics, deeper behavioral insights, customized learning experiences, AI learning, the list goes on. Indeed, 2021 is poised to bring new and exciting opportunities to evolve our healthcare system, innovate the patient and provider experiences, and ultimately improve health outcomes.

In looking ahead to the excitement that 2021 will bring, we must also look back on how we got here. In looking back, I would be remiss not to thank the incredible sacrifice of all of our healthcare workers who have worked so hard and have given so much these past 12 months. While we all strive to make a positive impact on people’s health, I can think of no one more deserving of celebration than our frontline healthcare workers.

With the exciting advances in technology, data science, immunotherapies, gene therapies, and information science, I am looking forward to seeing what the future will bring and what we all will be able to achieve together.