Fortune Favors the Nimble: A Q&A With Ogilvy Health CEO Kate Cronin
What will be the short-term/long-term effects on the healthcare industry from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The heath industry had to pivot very quickly to meet the urgent demands of COVID-19. The pandemic caused a “forced digital” approach to health in which providers and patients who weren’t comfortable with telehealth were suddenly thrust into the use of this emerging technology. And, even after the immediate emergency of the current COVID-19 pandemic passes, experts say the healthcare industry won’t return to business as usual.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, health systems rapidly scaled up their telehealth, artificial intelligence, and revenue cycle programs. Those organizations that quickly adopted telehealth are looking to improve integration, infrastructure, and security in 2021, focusing on long-term telehealth decisions. However, there is continued uncertainty around reimbursement because CMS may reel in some waivers put in place during the public health crisis.
In terms of the pharmaceutical arena, these companies have stepped up with public-private partnerships, and on their own as well, to expedite the development of safe vaccines. The pharma industry was once suffering from reputation issues and now has the opportunity to demonstrate its value across society in the wake of a pandemic.
Healthcare continues to be an ever-challenging category that is in a state of flux. Those companies and organizations that are nimble and can see where “the puck will be” will be the most successful.
In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?
The pandemic has made our business nimbler. We have learned to adapt to an always-virtual approach within our agency teams and in working with our clients. In the health arena, COVID-19 increased the need for organizations to communicate more regularly with their audiences and with a necessary urgency. Cancer, chronic illness, infectious disease, and other diseases have not gone away during COVID-19. We have been working with organizations around telehealth to help patients affected by these conditions maintain and/or improve their health. There is also a new COVID-19 ecosystem we are working in that includes vaccines, therapies, and strategies for maintaining public health.
Black Lives Matter is one of the largest movements in U.S. history. How has this movement affected your business and how is your organization achieving racial diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
I think Black Lives Matter was a wakeup call for everyone in our industry and beyond. We have to improve our performance with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are looking at our hiring and recruiting processes to formalize an approach that ensures we have a diverse group of candidates and diverse employee base. Ogilvy has created a Diversity Advisory Council made up of Black talent that cuts across all levels, teams, and locations in the USA. The Council’s purpose is to provide inputs around action plans and initiatives, play a role in fostering a culture of leadership accountability when it comes to demonstrating DE&I progress, and honoring and recognizing the Black experience at Ogilvy, among other key objectives. To date, the Council has weighed in on a range of ongoing efforts, including proposed changes to the recruiting and interviewing process, a new sponsorship program, anti-racism training that will be rolled out before the year’s end, a new community service policy, and a draft client charter.
What healthcare topics would you like to see addressed by the U.S. government and politicians after the 2020 election results?
I would like to see politicians address healthcare access for underserved communities. With Black Lives Matter, and the spotlight on racial inequalities, there is an opportunity for the Biden administration to place a strong emphasis on lowering racial health disparities. It will be important to review new ideas for how we can close the health gap, such as increased funding for community health centers, where 59% of patients are people of color and one quarter are uninsured. I also think we need to be addressing aging and how we can ensure that as we age, our health costs are not increasing exponentially in inefficient ways. We can look at programs that afford people the opportunity to age at home with the use of technology (smart homes) and in-home services.
With an increase in telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you see the role and impact of telehealth playing out in the years ahead?
I think telehealth will become more common because HCPs and patients have become more comfortable with it during this global pandemic. One area in particular is mental health, where the pandemic, in combination with social issues, has led to more demand for mental health services. Teletherapy providers have seen record uptake since the global pandemic began, and the need for mental health support is soaring as patients confront the stress of the pandemic and social crises. While mental health services have been growing overall, according to Teledoc Health, there has been an upward trend for virtual visits even among groups who are more care-avoidant, such as men, patients older than the age of 65, and people who use Medicaid.
Which health technology trends and developments are currently disrupting/will disrupt the marketplace?
Patient connectivity is the overarching issue that will continue to disrupt the market. Trends that will continue include the use of at-home monitors to connect to the physician, as well as the use of apps to track sleep, heart health, calories, and more. Telehealth is here to stay as doctors and patients become increasingly comfortable with it as a result of the global pandemic. Also, the “internet of things” will continue to grow and allow HCPs to better understand their patients’ journeys across all aspects of their health through connected devices, cloud-computing, and management of patient records. Because of disruptive technology, HCPs can improve care management.
The biggest and most newsworthy tech trend is the use of a genetic technology called synthetic messenger RNA behind two COVID-19 vaccines. The proof of concept comes with a 95% efficacy rate in the COVID-19 vaccines being studied. These vaccines contain specifically designed mRNA that instructs cells on how to make viral protein, and this approach is being studied by Moderna for potential use across multiple diseases.
Another trend is using virtual reality to create immersive experiences, from training physicians, managing patients, and educating audiences. At Ogilvy, we’ve created a virtual world for children who are receiving vaccinations to help minimize their fear around needles. Another example is the way technology allows surgeons to learn and practice new surgical techniques using a simulated environment that is low risk.
Finally, the launch of Amazon Pharmacy will be a huge technology disruptor because it will allow Prime members to order prescription drugs online and have them delivered to their door via 2-day shipping. This will affect pharmacy retail giants, including CVS and Walgreens, and will impact the role of the pharmacist as counselor to patients who are looking for professional advice in addition to their prescription when they visit a pharmacy.
What are your predictions for the healthcare industry in 2021 and/or beyond?
One additional prediction is the focus on wellness. What COVID-19 has demonstrated is that every company now needs to be a wellness company. This is not limited to just companies in the health arena. Wellness has been growing in importance for many years, and the global pandemic has only accelerated the focus on it. Employers must think about the safety of their work environments and the mental wellness of their employee base. Airlines need to prove that their planes are clean and the air on the planes is filtered and safe to breathe. Hotels have developed partnerships with cleaning brands to stamp their seal of safe approval. Ogilvy’s Wellness Gap report found that 77% of people say wellness is very or extremely important to them and 75% of people feel brands could do more for their wellness, yet only 46% feel that brands make their wellness a priority.
Take major wellness industries like food and skin care—industries that have put wellness at the core of their priorities for the past 2 decades. Now, listen to the consumers. Is the food industry doing all it should to help them with their wellness? Only 41% say yes. Is the skin care industry doing all it should to help them with their wellness? Only 53% say yes.
The conclusion is obvious. Wellness is still largely uncharted territory—even for industries that thought they had done their homework. Wellness is no longer the domain of wellness brands. In fact, 52% of consumers expect categories like cars, banks, or airlines to offer wellness options.