These 3 Things Have Us Excited for the Healthcare Industry in 2018

January 8, 2018

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Predicting the future is a tricky business. Still, investors, analysts, public and private companies and journalists will soon peer deeply into their crystal balls to forecast the year ahead for the healthcare industry.

The forecasting is part of an annual tradition known as the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. Held every January in San Francisco, it undoubtedly sets the agenda and sentiment for the financial state of the healthcare industry, from pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to hospitals, health insurers to medical device manufacturers.

As public relations professionals, we’ll leave the financial forecasting to those qualified to do it. Instead, here are three storylines to watch for not just at the conference but throughout 2018. All of them, in our view, are tied to a fundamental question where communication plays a fundamental role: how does an industry essential to the lives of people around the world maintain and gain their trust?

FleishmanHillard  is on the ground with colleagues from across the network. Throughout the conference, we will offer additional viewpoints and thinking on a range of relevant topics, so be sure to check back often. We’ll also post daily conference recaps. If you’d like them in your inbox, please email me or tweet at me.

FDA Stands for Fast Drug Approvals. Is That a Good Thing?

Last year, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb oversaw an extremely productive FDA when it came to approving new medicines. If you’re into the numbers, FDA approved 46 therapies classified as new molecular entities, its most in over 20 years (Our colleague Mark Senak has an excellent post about this topic on his blog, Eye on FDA).

It’s hard to argue that this isn’t good news. Why? FDA approvals are considered a measurable indicator of R&D productivity and innovation. You could even argue 2017 had some of the most innovative, important therapies approved in decades, from new treatments for sickle cell disease (the first in over 20 years) to groundbreaking, truly personalized cancer therapies. The FDA even approved the first prescription app for use in treating opioid addiction and a “digital pill” with an embedded sensor to aid patients with schizophrenia in medication adherence. The faster that these therapies get approved, the more quickly companies can be rewarded for their innovation and patients can feel better.

Will Companies Continue to Take a Stand on Political Issues?

As Daniel Korschun of Drexel University wrote in a great article for Fast Company, “consumers today form relationships with a company based not only on the quality of the products and services it sells but also on a set of expectations of how it (should comport itself).”

Last year, we saw many companies determine that they must express a viewpoint on politics and policy which affected their customers and employees. The healthcare industry was no exception. Just take a look at Merck CEO Ken Frazier’s decision to resign from President Trump’s manufacturing council over concerns about equality and diversity. The positive reputational impact cannot be denied. Dozens of CEOs also signed a letter supporting opposition to President Trump’s original immigration ban. Issues like these show no signs of slowing in 2018. Which companies will show they’re committed to reflecting their employees’ values?

Let’s Talk About Cool Technology!

We’ve seen technology transform almost every aspect of our lives, from telecommunications to travel and transportation. But you could be forgiven if it feels like technology has been slower to make healthcare faster, safer and more efficient. We are particularly excited about the role industry sees for artificial intelligence and virtual reality will play across the healthcare spectrum. In comments to STAT, the incoming CEO of Novartis (client), Vas Narasimhan, said, “AI will massively extend our ability to mine clinical data for new medical insights, beyond current capabilities of the human brain.”

It’s also exciting to see how partnerships between academic centers and industry can speed the use of virtual reality to help patients use healthcare services more efficiently and less wastefully. Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute professor at MIT, said 2018 is the year when we’ll “see better ways to improve medication adherence, new applications and tools for cellular therapies, and more advances in medical virtual reality and therapeutic digital medicine.”