Has COVID-19 Changed What Prescribers Want from Pharma in 2021?

The more things change, the more they stay the same in pharma—except in 2020. Data from the sixth annual 2021 Apollo Intelligence Global Healthcare Predictions Report (formerly the InCrowd Healthcare Predictions Report) delivered both surprises and noteworthy feedback about what prescribers want from pharma in the coming year—as well as what they actually expect.

Sourced in January 2021 from more than 1,100 physicians worldwide, data in the report show that the top 2021 issues U.S. physicians would like the pharma industry to address are drug affordability (55%)—ranked #1 every year—and expanded treatment access (38%). However, in 2021, more prescribers prioritized increased drug development and discovery—up from 6% in 2020 to 11% in 2021, its highest level ever.

When asked if they thought they would get any of these items—though typically cynical about their prospects—only 30% believed there would be no changes to the industry in 2021, a response usually shared by 60% of respondents, as was the case in 2020. Yet despite the industry’s rapid mobilization around COVID-19 vaccines, 57% of U.S. physicians said that the events of the past year still have not improved their confidence in pharma.

In questions on critical healthcare needs and the likelihood of various changes, the majority of physicians are optimistic regarding the COVID vaccines and their facilities’ capacity through the remainder of flu season. Respondents from both the U.S. and Europe ranked the widespread vaccine roll-out as the top critical need in 2021.

What does this mean for pharma in 2021? The data suggests pharma teams should monitor four key areas.

1. Global differences in concerns around herd immunity, importance of telehealth, and health tech. In the study, U.S. prescribers led the six-nation cohort in concerns about achieving herd immunity with COVID-19 given patient vaccine hesitancy, with 84% of respondents expressing this concern, compared to 75% in France and 52% for the UK. In a separate question, 47% of U.S. prescribers said they expect rationing of care in some U.S. areas before the U.S. reaches an optimal immunization level.

Though both U.S. and European prescribers agreed that consumer-friendly health tech, such as telemedicine, wearables, and monitoring devices, will influence better quality of care, American physicians felt more strongly about it (81%) than their European peers (71%). When asked about what changes they predict to occur in the healthcare industry, U.S. physicians ranked increased use of telemedicine as #1, cited by 20% of respondents, compared to 12% of European physicians surveyed.

2. Burnout was noted by 47% of U.S. respondents, while 31% said they experienced some form of pervasive loss as a result of the pandemic. Over a quarter (29%) cited the need to address physician burnout as a top wish-list item, while 50% strongly agreed that the medical profession would struggle to recruit after the pandemic. The industry will need to pay close attention to this growing issue critically impacting physicians’ emotional and mental stamina.

3. Data privacy continues to be a concern for respondents. Seventy percent of physicians thought health tech would create more patient privacy issues, driven in part by telemedicine and online medical records—posing an important challenge as the industry embraces greater digitization in care delivery.

4. Communication is the top change that needs to happen to optimally manage the next pandemic, according to prescribers—both uniform Federal Government messaging and response (26%), and improved scientific communication and education (14%).

As global healthcare systems strive to return patient care and public health to pre-pandemic levels, industry leaders can apply the insights of their most trusted of audience—prescribers—to guide our common path back to normalcy.

  • Meghan Oates-Zalesky

    Meghan Oates-Zalesky is Senior Vice President of Marketing at Apollo Intelligence, LLC, responsible for marketing strategy and execution, positioning, and lead generation. Prior to joining Apollo, she was the Head of Marketing for InCrowd, a tenure that began in 2015. Meg has more than 20 years of marketing and business strategy experience, primarily in the life sciences and healthcare sectors, including executive leadership roles at ShapeUp, NaviNet, TriZetto, and Health Dialog.


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