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HLTH 2021: The Pandemic’s Silver Linings

By Terry Duesterhoeft

Chief Product and Commercial Officer – EarlySense

One of the things I heard repeatedly at HLTH 2021 in Boston last week was how incredible it was to be back together again – as colleagues, as industry members, as customers and vendors. It certainly seemed to dispel the idea that in a post-pandemic world, we will see the end of the in-person trade show and the rise of virtual-only professional and commercial gatherings.

While we may be experiencing only a brief sense of euphoric nostalgia at being “back to normal” in our professions again, I think it speaks to the question being raised across virtually every industry.

And that is simply: where do we go from here?

That question was certainly one of the major underpinnings at HLTH: what does healthcare look like on the other side of this? As we redefine industries across the board, what changes in types of businesses will we see? Are the many changes in digital health brought about by the pandemic permanent or transitory? How does this all affect access to healthcare services?

The emerging answers to those questions could be seen in new variations in traditional business models displayed at HLTH. One such emerging model in digital health is often defined as B2C2B and is enabled by the ability to utilize maturing payment models for Digital Therapeutics (DTx) and corporate wellness. Thus, companies focusing on behavioral health are joining the ranks of existing DTx companies focused on obesity and the most common chronic conditions.

Are We Just Rearranging Letters? The Rise of B2C2B

The concepts of B2B, B2C and B2B2C are well understood business models which have dominated the planning for how a new product or service is brought to market.

However, in the wake of the pandemic, and even before, it was obvious that new business models were emerging or available. Some of these were derived from growing DTx payment models, to allow new clinical and therapeutic models to gain access to wellness and other health plan member populations faster and get paid more quickly for high value services.

“The acceptance of virtual care as a valid modality for clinical services changes the go-to-market landscape for the digital health market,” said Chris Hogg in a recent article in MobiHealth News, a popular digital health publication. “In this new world, companies have the ability to acquire patients directly using modern user acquisition techniques and the ability to get broadly paid by payers for providing those users with approved clinical services. When we combine these two components we get a new go-to-market model, B2C2B, which will become the dominant model for the virtual care era.”

Two places where this was evident at HLTH 2021 was in the rise of new DTx based corporate wellness products and services, and the major investment in telehealth and in-home care by traditionally consumer-focused retailers.

Corporate Wellness: HR Gets an Extreme Make-over

One of the main themes at HLTH – and a serious proof point for the legitimacy of the post-pandemic care and business models – was understanding not just what work looks like on the other side of a pandemic, but how to support the employees inside that new work structure.

In other words, it turns out that patients, in the traditional sense of the word, are not the only ones who want a healthcare continuum with the individual at the center of it. It turns out that the healthier, employed population also cares about this. Another byproduct of this also moved to prominence, in exploring how we support the issues that the pandemic helped to crack open, such as mental and behavioral health.

According to Georgia McDermott, head of consultant relations at Fitbit Health Solutions, the stats surrounding the pandemic’s impact on employee wellbeing over the last year are startling. She cited a few that we all know inherently, but the numbers tell a hard story: more than half of employees surveyed have increased their TV and video gaming time, while 48% are consuming more junk food. About half are more or significantly more sedentary today than before the pandemic. Additionally, more than 40% lack the motivation to take care of their wellbeing.

As a result, we saw a range of fitness, diet, stress management and wellness companies looking to create alliances with technology solutions, often for self-funded, employer health plans and in support of an ever more remote workforce. From virtual mental health offerings to the more comprehensive search for digital biomarker baselines to online nutritional support – which can be merged into employee connection platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom – corporate HR is poised to look very different in the future.

Big Investment in Telehealth and In-home Care

For the past four years – even prior to the pandemic – we’ve watched consumer retailers and big tech, wade into healthcare delivery. From urgent care clinics offered at WalMart, Target and CVS, to Best Buy and Amazon incorporating major health initiatives into their corporate strategies. Not to mention the even more visible focus on health by the biggest tech companies like Apple and Google.

With the direct pipeline they have into extensive consumer bases, they have the significant reach to understand what consumers want most. And they are now looking to deliver healthcare, or be part of the care delivery continuum, because they’ve recognized and are betting heavily – that the best place to care for patients is in their own home. Especially if they have a long-term chronic condition.

Managing chronic conditions – which account for over 75 percent of healthcare expenditures – is to a large degree about lifestyle. Providing patients with the right tools at home can build the foundation for the most cost effective and efficient care management strategy. And all that was before the pandemic, which further required us to take care into the home.

As HLTH announcements made their way out to the show floor, they included major retailer announcements that aligned under that B2C2B structure, with major investments in the telehealth and in-home care industries.

From retail giant Amazon to big pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, they are all “taking a closer look at in-home care,” said Elise Reuter, in an article about HLTH for MedCity News. “Digital health companies, as they merge and grow their services, are also increasingly looking at the home, with

Included Health (the merger of Doctor on Demand and Grand Rounds) also commenting on extending into patients’ communities and homes.”

As HLTH 2021 came to a close last week, I was struck yet again by the growth and change we’re seeing as a result of the pandemic. The new emphasis on a virtual care space highlighted just how important it is now for us to deliver on technologies that can impact the health and the healthcare of everyone no matter the stage of their life. This includes providing products which can fade into the backdrop of their lives but also deliver meaningful data that’s useful across myriad applications – whether that’s remote patient monitoring for high-risk populations or corporate health and wellness initiatives.

We are at the threshold of a new era of health and healthcare. I look forward to sharing more after the next in-person show for us: CES 2022.