As we enter 2021 and vaccines are being rolled out, we are all yearning for a reprieve and wondering how far we are from the finish line. It certainly seems that we could see a return to some type of “normal” before the end of 2021, but what will that look like in a post-COVID-19 world? The fact is, behaviors have changed and some of these changed behaviors will endure after this pandemic. So, perhaps the more prudent question is: “what will the state of work be and how will it change the landscape for healthcare and, specifically, medical devices?”

  1. Contact-Less or Reduced-Contact Facilities: Much like the advent of work-from-home, organizations have realized that reduced-contact models can work and deliver value. However, this doesn’t make everyone’s lives easier… this type of business presents new challenges for manufacturers and sales reps who traditionally have relied on their ability to build personal relationships with surgeons and provider staff. While solutions have emerged to help sales reps support existing relationships (ex. Video conferencing), it remains increasingly difficult to “get your foot in the door” to develop new relationships. Reps are going to have to lean heavily on their social skills and existing relationships when connecting and find ways to connect empathetically with surgeons and provider staff. In the new normal, it looks as though reduced-contact interactions will continue to be the norm, so it will be on the reps to find new ways of making meaningful connections with providers and it will be the responsibility of the manufacturers to find ways of enabling their sales ecosystem to engage within the terms being defined at the clinical level.
  2. Remote Support: As mentioned above, video conferencing is giving way to new support options that also mean the sales rep can support a surgical case without physically being in the operating room. These modes of support have proven to be effective in countless industries, but does it translate to the OR where the stakes are higher? While there will no doubt be some incarnation of remote support that takes root in the US market in a meaningful way, it presents new challenges such as the need for higher video quality, reliability of internet and broadband connections, and enhanced cyber security. Manufacturers should be paying attention to this trend and strategizing to leverage it, as it may lead to lower labor costs and, as a result, the ability to offer a lower cost of care to the patient.
  3. Rise of Digital Solutions: The pandemic has highlighted existing bottlenecks and complicated logistics across the board. As it is critical to ensure that the necessary inventory is available for surgery, digital solutions, designed to help track inventory and manage billing, have become critical in reducing the number of personal hand-offs between stakeholders in the value chain. The pandemic has further exposed the need to take control of the healthcare value chain, leveraging digital tools and supply chain data to optimize the pipeline for care. That’s not to say that the historical problems have disappeared; now it’s just easier to see the cracks. In the wake of covid-19, it goes without saying that the healthcare supply chain must be managed and backed up by effective and scalable digital solutions.

The Post-COVID world will be an interesting one – we will spend years recovering from this pandemic – working on a return to “normal”. However, the impact of the challenges faced during these times will not disappear and we will likely see lasting behavior change as a result. The writing is on the wall (at times in the form of social distancing signs), things are not going to return to life as usual like we remember. The industry has seen how it can act differently and sees value in it. Manufacturers will need to adapt and focus on solutions similar to those mentioned above in order to operate effectively in the new normal. The transition out of the pandemic presents a key opportunity to learn from these challenges and design a smoother, safer value chain for care.