By Asif Dhar, M.D., US Life Sciences & Health Care leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP
As we closed out 2021, the omicron variant was taking hold in the US and around the world. In early January, the US hit 1.35 million confirmed cases in a single day—shattering previous records.1 As my colleague Stephanie Allen noted in her 2022 Global Health Outlook, the combination of low vaccination rates, limited resources, a surge of patients, and staff burnout continue to strain health care resources around the world. In some ways, it feels that every time we take a step forward, we take two steps back.
In 2022, I believe we will find that isn’t the case. A year ago, I wrote that the pandemic “has been a catalyst for profound changes in health care and life sciences.” The omicron variant was a real curve-ball, but necessity is the mother of invention. When we look back on 2022, I think we will recognize that real progress had been made and new models of health have emerged. The length of the pandemic, the durability of investments in technology and R&D, changes in the way we work and how we access health, greater focus on health equity, and increased attention to the link between the environment and health will likely accelerate the journey to the Future of HealthTM.
It has been nearly three years since we outlined our vision for the Future of Health, where we envisioned a more consumer-centric, digital experience organized around communities and powered by a revolution in preventive care, treatments, and diagnostics. After hundreds of discussions with stakeholders in the US (and around the world), we have begun to fill in the details of what this journey might look like. Elements of the future that we described have emerged right in front of us— a number of years before we expected it. COVID-19 has made it clear that prevention, early detection, and empowered consumers are required to create healthy communities. For example, millions of people are testing themselves for the virus using at-home rapid tests. These consumers will increasingly expect health services to be available when and where they want them.
In 2021, we wrote about the Future of Life Sciences, the Future of Public Health, the Future of Behavioral Health, and the Future of Artificial Intelligence in Health Care. Like many organizations, Deloitte understood the profound damage health inequity has on society. In response, we launched The Deloitte Health Equity Institute. We have also begun to describe the crucial role of planetary health. I expect 2022 will be the year in which we come together and take these investments, insights, and basic changes to make health more equitable for everyone.
Below are some of the trends I think we should pay close attention to in 2022. These trends could determine whether we accelerate the journey to a more equitable Future of Health, or if we wind up taking a step back:
- Compassion will likely be a key design feature in the future of work: In her 2022 Outlook for hospitals, my colleague Tina Wheeler discussed the crush the pandemic continues to have on US hospitals and health systems. Health care workers have been on the front lines for the past two years and it is important that we have compassion for them as they make personal sacrifices to help patients recover from this disease. The omicron variant is so infectious that some health care workers have been out sick at a time when their communities need them the most. This latest strain of the virus forced some hospitals and health systems to delay non-emergency procedures, and many consumers are delaying preventative screenings. Emergency rooms in some communities reached their breaking point.2 I believe public health organizations, life sciences companies, and health care institutions will rethink their strategies about attracting and retaining talent and creating a more compassionate culture. These changes may range from immediate operational measures (e.g., mental distress screenings and support services) to a much longer-term systemic activation of new norms. Hospital and health system leaders will likely be expected to provide clinicians and staff with a supportive infrastructure that prioritizes employee well-being—both now and in the future—as we noted in our recent paper on using workforce strategy levers to support mental well-being among caregivers.
- Digital operations and software will likely become more integrated into everyday medicine: COVID-19 is pushing many organizations to be more agile and to accelerate long-planned digital transformations. Talent, financial, operations, management, and other areas could be consolidated onto digital platforms. I also expect many organizations will leverage cloud, artificial intelligence, and cyber technologies to modernize their operations. At the same time, treatments and diagnoses are rapidly moving to virtual settings. COVID-19 treatments often require a rapid diagnosis and prompt treatment to be highly effective. Digital therapeutics, diagnostics, and surgical interventions are starting to move into the mainstream. These include times when they augment analogue health technologies, but also when a doctor might prescribe an app itself. More than 90,000 new health apps were released in 2021, and investors pumped nearly $30 billion into digital health care deals.3 My colleague Peter Micca recently noted that 2021 was huge for health tech, but predicted 2022 could be even bigger.
- The metaverse won’t be just a place for gamers: The metaverse could be the next frontier for health care and life sciences. Virtual health, which became more accepted over the past two years, could be considered the first step into the metaverse. As people continue to become infected with the omicron variant, some hospitals and their staffs could become even more overwhelmed. I wrote a blog last October where I explained how Deloitte helped the government in India respond to the delta variant by encouraging people to seek care at home. If planned correctly with integrated triage, command centers, and training, patients might be able get the care they need at home. That could take some pressure off of health care workers, which would help preserve scarce resources for the sickest patients. Health systems, health plans, and public health organizations should look for ways to encourage this strategy. The next step might be to combine virtual health and training with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), which could enhance the virtual-patient experience, improve safety, and strengthen the connection between clinicians and patients. Allowing more people to receive care at home could also have a positive impact on the environment, as my colleagues Dr. Elizabeth Baca and Urvi Shah noted in their recent blog. AR and VR could become part of clinical trials, which could vastly expand the pool of potential participants. Digital therapeutics and diagnostics could use AR/VR technology to treat patients in the metaverse. Some conferences are already exploring the metaverse4 and metaversities,5 and patient and clinical education will likely follow.
- Research and development investments will likely continue to grow in medtech and biopharma: The pandemic helped underscore the importance of virtual health and alternative sites of care, and we have noted a shift in locations where medical devices are used. As my colleague Glenn Snyder noted in a blog, many early-stage innovators are designing products for use in outpatient locations or in the home. While medical devices are increasingly digital and connected, the companies themselves are also becoming more digital. In his 2022 Outlook for Life Sciences, my colleague Mike DeLone noted that many of our life sciences clients are ramping up their efforts to digitize virtually every business function. Everything—from research and development (R&D), to commercial processes, to supply chain, to human resources—is being reimagined, digitized, and transformed at a pace that we have not seen in years past, he noted. Our latest research into pharmaceutical innovation found that projected annual R&D returns have more than doubled—from 2.7% in 2020 to 7% in 2021. This is the largest annual increase we’ve noted since we began tracking it in 2010, and the growth wasn’t restricted to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.
- Smart health communities and public health should be organized around trust: Up to 80% of health outcomes are caused by factors unrelated to medical treatment. What we eat, how we exercise, where we live, and our socioeconomic status have a bigger impact on health outcomes than the care we receive. Some community-based organizations, health systems, health plans, and other stakeholders are teaming up with non-traditional players to establish digitally enabled “communities.” These communities will be focused on health communications, prevention, early intervention, and well-being. In the future, I expect smart health communities will evolve, expand, and become more connected, more sophisticated, and more empowered. Our report on vaccine hesitancy revealed that consumers still see their family, friends, and personal physicians as their most trusted sources of information. The emergence of smart health communities could help to empower those individuals and inoculate people against misinformation channels.
- Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) will help drive health equity and increase interest in planetary health: We have been talking about ESG for the past couple of years, but we expect it will become even more pervasive in 2022. The reporting of ESG is being driven by investors who want to understand the human impact of their investments and by regulators that are beginning to develop the standards for these filings. At least 40 organizations have signed the Health Equity Pledge to collect data about race, ethnicity, language and sex and then share what they learn to develop best practices.6 We are seeing a convergence of our work in health equity and in planetary health. Broadly speaking, planetary health is the impact humans have on the environment and the impact the environment has on humans. The World Economic Forum recently published my colleague Greg Reh’s thoughts on how a global economy should focus on progress, people, and planet. Deloitte’s 2022 CxO Sustainability Report: The Disconnect Between Ambition and Impact, reveals that global C-level business leaders (or CxOs) are increasingly concerned about climate change and see the world at a tipping point to act. At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the US and nearly 50 other countries committed to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems in response to growing evidence that a warming planet is having dire consequences. Deloitte—along with our health care and life sciences clients—are committed to planetary health and making health more equitable to everyone. In the year ahead, I expect investors, regulators, consumers, and employees will increasingly demand to know what companies are doing to improve the environment and how they are working to make health more equitable. Life sciences and health care organizations that have well-defined ESG strategies have an opportunity to distinguish their value propositions to shareholders.
A year ago, I said the pandemic had been a catalyst for profound change…and I stand by that statement. Health care and life sciences organizations are making significant investments that will push us further into the Future of Health. While it might feel as though the omicron variant has pushed us backward, I believe we are actually gathering forward momentum that will continue to advance the industry in 2022.
1. US reports 1.35 million COVID-19 cases in a day, shattering global record, January 11, 2022
2. Inside a Rhode Island Hospital ER overwhelmed by omicron, Washington Post, January 19, 2022; Santa Clara Country VMC emergency workers to walk out, San Jose Spotlight, January 24, 2022; Hospitals are in serious trouble, The Atlantic, January 7, 2022
3. Digital health apps balloon to more than 350,000 available on the market, mobihealthnews, August 4, 2021
4. Meetings in the metaverse: Is this the future of events and conferences?, Forbes, January 13, 2022; Metaverse meets health meets festival during 2022 HIMSS, ALTVR.com
5. World first: the launch of the Metaversity and a global virtual lecture in the metaverse at Arab Health 2022, Associated Press of British HealthTech Industries, January 18, 2022
6. University of California signs Health Equity Pledge to leverage data in addressing disparities, October 26, 2021
Mark your calendars for February 2 at 11 AM ET as Deloitte leaders discuss expected trends in 2022 for the Life Science and Health Care industry. Register and explore the future with Deloitte.