Five Key Takeaways from Asembia 2022

By Omri Shor

The national conference for specialty pharmaceutical industry, Asembia, took place last week and there were some standout discussions that are presenting new views into the industry ahead. Below are five key takeaways I heard during my time in Las Vegas.

Life Beyond COVID
In so many discussions, pharma, partners, providers, and patients are all beginning to view the landscape in a post-COVID world. This often means how new digital technology can continue to be leveraged for more advanced use beyond just a pandemic scenario. One central theme I heard in many different presentations was the issue of patient engagement in a post-COVID world. Many players are looking to sustain or improve the levels of patient engagement in health journeys that became prevalent during the early days of the pandemic. Can new tech tools help to maintain that connectedness between patients and providers when outside traditional healthcare settings? Can we expect patients to continue to stay engaged in their health outside of a pandemic scenario? Many partners are betting that new engagement tools can help to create new insights and pathways to support the long-term journey. 

Pharmacists Taking a New More Active Role 
With the growth of new specialty medications, specialty pharmacists are becoming key players in optimizing complex treatment decisions for patients. Using both data and patient-reported outcomes, specialty pharmacies can help health systems adapt to an increasingly complex environment. I believe this expansion of roles is increasing the use of digital platforms to capture greater insight into patient behaviors, dosing trends, and adherence to better align output with outcomes. This connection to patients also lends a greater view into longer-term pipelines and manufacturing needs, connection to prescribers, and the ability to influence trends to support positive medical claims. 

Improving Patient Access through Greater Centricity 
When it comes to medication adherence, many apps and platforms in the healthcare market can help patients manage complex medication therapies. But these tools are often medication- and condition-specific and fail at being patient-specific. It takes more than technology to help improve adherence rates — human connection and clinical expertise can’t be replaced, but they can be made more accessible. Many partners are looking to integrate patient centricity and compassion through new digital platforms to improve adherence and compliance. These new platforms look to capture patient symptoms, available at home support or navigating a complex dosing schedule. I believe the more patient-specific and granular we get on the full experience; we can dig deeper into patient centricity. Adherence approaches should be holistic and help connect patients to people who can best help address their challenges on a case-by-case basis.

Changing Dynamics of Specialty Pharmacies 
There has been a huge growth in specialty pharmacies, which grew 315% in six years. The fastest-growing category of specialty pharmacies are those owned by hospitals and health systems, which now account for a third of all specialty pharmacies. And specialty pharmacies owned by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) represent over three-fourths of the total market.  There has been changes in the specialty drug market too, which now accounts for 55% of the share of net spending in the market. This increase in specialty drug use is likely to lead to a battle for control of specialty patients. More partners are leaning into transparency and education for patients, providers, and care teams as specialty pharmacy systems continue to evolve. As payers, pharmacies and health systems continue to consolidate, integrated workflows and systems will be essential to capture a consistent view of the patient journey.

Why Payers are Hesitant to Add Digital Therapeutics
I was disappointed to hear that despite many promising developments in digital therapeutics, payer willingness to include them remains an up-hill battle. This is partially due to the FDA lacking a true regulatory pathway for approving digital therapeutics – there’s no precedent for them. Only 25% of payers have a contract in place with a digital therapeutic manufacturer. To move the needle, more digital therapeutics companies need to provide solid clinical evidence of patient outcomes and proven ways to reduce costs. Early case studies are important to prove the effectiveness of programs, but for payers, it’s all in the cost savings. From what I heard at Asembia, all players in the digital therapeutic space need more education on when and how these treatments are best implemented for maximum patient benefit.

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