Insights in health & wellness branding


AbelsonTaylor’s senior leaders answer some of this year’s hot questions regarding the future of healthcare

19 January 2022   |   Gretchen Kren

How has year two of the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your business and the industry?


Jeff Berg, Ph.D., President, AbelsonTaylor:

The short answer is that year two of the COVID-19 pandemic continued to create a net-positive impact on our business as well as the overall healthcare communications industry. That said, many subtle and not-so-subtle changes began to take a firmer hold, with much of the impact yet to be fully realized.

We learned that the trends in year one, already emerging before the pandemic, accelerated in year two. Work from home went from a desirable benefit to mandatory. Technology for mundane tasks went from being merely enabling to mission critical. The idea that we couldn’t collaborate remotely while being creative was laid to waste. Productivity increased, but so did stress and isolation. The concern that people would become slackers if not “watched” was crushed.

I will offer absolutely no predictions on what the “office” will look like down the road (and please don’t waste your time conducting another employee survey on this subject). Perhaps the Great Resignation of 2021 has affected advertising more than any other in-formation service industry. The labor pool became infested with sharks gobbling up talent by offering double promotions and 30 percent salary increases. Clearly not sustainable. I modestly predict the Great Reckoning of 2024. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be felt years from now and year two helped build the stamina and resilience that successful agencies like ours will need to thrive.

What are your thoughts on the Build Back Better Agenda’s plans to lower Rx drug costs and reduce health insurance premiums, and what industry themes/elements would you like to see included in the agenda?

Jay Carter, EVP, Chief Strategy Officer, AbelsonTaylor:

As I write this note, the Build Back Better bill was passed by the House. If I wanted to waste words, I would get into all the legislative nitty gritty about it passing the Senate, but Schoolhouse Rock did a much better job of that than I could. I’ll focus first as a taxpayer. I like the idea of single negotiation of prices and rebates by Medicare; the federal government writes the check, yet multiple negotiations with plans can lead to a dilution of buying power. In this instance, single payer makes sense to me.

As a working member of the industry, that action could obviously affect revenue. The good news is, pharma is used to negotiating with big payers. For some companies, this will be the biggest fish of all, but I think that pharma will survive in that environment.

The better news is this: At the end of the day, the industry thrives by innovating in areas where drug therapy doesn’t help YET. This forces America’s pharmaceutical industry to continue to focus up-on better patient outcomes, where everyone wins.

What are the key issues trending among U.S. healthcare stakeholders?

Laura Bartmess Goeglein, SVP, Account Director,AbelsonTaylor:

 The changes from the last 18 months have rippled across so many areas, bringing continual stress but also a ripeness for opportunity. Everyone wants to understand what the “new normal” is, despite circumstances still being far from “normal.” Some key challenges are centered on communication, and how we have been forced to evolve in the way we connect and build relationships.

One challenging area is where we work. People are heading back to the office at varying levels, from one day to five days a week, and a new issue is the hybrid work model. There is always someone not in person, making every live meeting also a web meeting. Having a conference room of people in person and a few on screen is a difficult new meeting structure that we now need to figure out. Do we go back to plain old teleconferences, or do we always have a video screen going? The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article pointing out that hybrid meetings take a lot more forethought and we haven’t really figured it out. I was also interested to read that Zillow has a “one Zoom, all Zoom” policy, where even when in the office, you must log in from a separate computer if anyone is remote.

Along the same lines, healthcare professionals have embraced engaging with sale reps in a remote setting and may at times continue to prefer this way of interacting for its efficiency. The rep-HCP relationship is often at its best when there is trust, chemistry, and an ongoing partnership in patient care and solving office challenges. How can sales reps continue to deepen such a critical relationship via digital channels?

And then there are conferences. All signs point to hybrid meetings moving forward, allowing flexibility for remote attendance. Virtual booths are table stakes now, but often seem to act as a microsite in terms of content and experience. How will the hybrid experience continue to evolve around conferences? How will important networking opportunities thrive outside of live group meetings?

As we continue to re-engage in a live setting, it’s clear that a parallel experience will need to occur in a digital setting for most interactions. Finding ways to make this inclusive, engaging, and frustration-free will help us determine what future state of business communications is our “new normal.”

Kristen McGirk, SVP, Account Director, AbelsonTaylor:

 The need for more efficient patient care is a core topic among many healthcare stakeholders right now. Whether you are a physician, nurse, hospital system or pharmaceutical manufacturer, we all need to identify better ways to treat and manage patients that do not involve in-person care.

We’ve all seen the upward trend in telehealth, which was trending upward prior to the pandemic but has risen greatly since. This was a good solution during COVID by reducing the contact that patients needed to have with their healthcare providers. But it also expanded access to healthcare to those who are vulnerable, don’t have transportation, or don’t have healthcare in their geographic areas. How can we do more?
We still need to figure out better ways to manage and track the symptoms of these patients remotely. The use of monitors, our smart phones and other devices that can track our conditions and provide that information to healthcare providers is on an upward trend and there are some great advances in mental health with the use of virtual reality and augmented reality.

By focusing on how to efficiently manage patient care, reducing costs to both patients and hospitals, we should be able to have more effective patient care and expand our access to all who need it.

How are your clients using real-world data (RWD) and real-world evidence (RWE) to maximize their clinical and commercial results?

Lynnette Hunter, EVP, Director of Client Services, AbelsonTaylor:

 For several years the healthcare industry has looked at ways to build and leverage real world evidence (RWE) to better support the efficacy and safety of medicines beyond the clinical trials used for governing agency approvals and product labeling. For rare disease brands, RWE was important as the very small patient populations that are recruited for clinical trials could be followed via patient registries, enabling manufacturers to understand the outcomes and value of these clinical therapies with very high associated costs to the healthcare system.

Jump ahead to 2021, and we are now seeing the use of RWE in many broader ways. Real world data (RWD) is being used to identify and support expansion of product labeling and indications for therapies used in much more common conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. RWE is where advanced biologic therapies can differentiate and have benefits beyond the initial clinical trials, separating products with similar clinical profiles and finding additional efficacy and safety benefits in specific populations. With the use of retrospective EMR and claims data, we are now able to identify trends in the market and impact the protocols used to treat patients as well as find opportunities to target specific populations where we see positive outcomes based on their past response to earlier therapies.

And finally, one of the biggest impacts of the expanded use of RWE is helping to drive overall healthcare costs down, bringing recognition and understanding to the benefits of what are typically deemed more costly therapies vs hospitalization and long-term medical costs. Health economics studies are now the price of entry when launching a new product, and manufacturers are recognizing the value of using real-world outcomes to establish the value of their pharmaceutical therapies on an overburdened healthcare system. This is even more important as we battle a pandemic, which places unparalleled pressure on medical and hospital resources.

As we look to the future, the key will be planning for RWE and RWD using advanced analytical technology such as AI and machine learning to speed the collection and review of data, then helping manufacturers implement systems to publish outcomes and encouraging the governing agencies to accept this data as a reliable and trusted source to make treatment protocol decisions.


Which health technologies are currently disrupting or will disrupt the marketplace?

Christopher Dimmock, SVP, Integrated Strategy, AbelsonTaylor:

 Active health and wellness monitoring has come a long way from “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Our personal devices have moved well beyond communication to personal data aggregators. We can track our screen time, sleep, calories, resting heart rate, O2 levels, glucose levels and body temperature at any time. We are surrounded by IoT devices that are just waiting to tell us more, and this is giving patients a tremendous sense of involvement and influence in their healthcare.

At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest splash (pun intended) was the Toto smart toilet that can analyze your diet and make recommendations accordingly. One could easily imagine an IoT conversation between your smart toilet and smart refrigerator, with Alexa listening in, to help with weekly meal planning.

Technological advances and the social distancing of the pandemic have also accelerated access to distributive diagnostics done at home or local facilities. Cumulatively, this wealth of personal health and wellness data will only continue to grow and become more interdependent as it is aggregated. Patients who take advantage of this will have an even greater sense of self-agency in their health and well-being.

While this is disruptive, the real disruption will be in how healthcare providers react and interact with this mass of patient-generated data. Will they trust information from proprietary algorithms that, while well-researched, may not be peer reviewed or FDA approved?

Health tracking apps are now including functions that will enable users to print out or email their data directly to their healthcare providers. This seems to beg two important questions. One, who holds the HCP education burden for correlating in-office diagnostics with this large personal patient data set? And two, how will the HCP practice evolve to manage it?

We should also expect that this growing large dataset will provide a platform for further industry research and development. Will pharmaceutical companies be able to leverage this information in the design and implementation of clinical trials?

As Silicon Valley continues to identify unmet needs and market products that empower individuals, they will also need to recognize and manage how this information will help HCPs care for their patients and evolve their practices.

Erica Rivera, VP, Engagement Strategy, AbelsonTaylor:

 I recently read about a multiyear study led by researchers at the University of Washington that looked to deliver treatment to rural patients for complex diagnoses – particularly PTSD and bipolar disorder – in a setting where physical access to diagnosis and treatment was often hours away. The project, named The Study to Promote Innovation in Rural Integrated Telepsychiatry (SPIRIT), had more than 1,000 participants and overall delivered a 32 percent increase in improvement on a scale of mental health functioning. The solution was quite simple: use telehealth technology to connect psychiatrists and psychologists in urban areas with patients in rural areas. The outcome shows that applying existing technologies to unmet patient needs and challenges can be the pathway to measurable success. When the initiative started in 2016, Zoom wasn’t the household word or everyday experience it is now, but that didn’t create a barrier to adoption, participation, or outcome. In fact, healthcare infrastructure was the more distinct challenge to be addressed.

Working in digital innovation and thinking about ways to make impacts for our clients, I believe this study highlights how frequently the conversation around disruptive health technology focuses on what’s new or not yet developed when a more important series of questions might be, “What do we have now that can be applied differently?” and “Who needs access to care that others have access to readily?”

The disparities in health outcomes across the nation have never been more glaring than they are after almost two years of life in a global pandemic. Recent data* from the CDC (Risk for COVID-19 Infection, Hospitalization, and Death by Race/Ethnicity) showed consistently that black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native people have experienced disproportionate rates of illness and death due to COVID-19.

Now is the time for health technology to focus more on the individuals and communities we can positively impact. This is the time to strive for equality. In the same way the SPIRIT study applied innovative thinking with existing technology to solve a specific need for a specific set of rural Americans, we can do the same to push the next great healthcare disruption: equality.

The leaders and organizations that harness our existing power and innovative digital thinking to actively level the playing field and measurably minimize these gaps will put the U.S. on a path to overall better outcomes that extend well beyond our  health. This is the most important healthcare disruption we need for 2022.

What are your predictions for the healthcare industry in 2022 and/or beyond?

Yolanda Macias, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, AbelsonTaylor:

 The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said that, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” As the newly hired first director of DEI at AbelsonTaylor, my first step is a sizable one . . . building a culture where no employee lacks psychological safety and all feel empowered to be their authentic selves at work. If I can imagine and help realize a workplace where this is fundamentally true, then ATers can become ambassadors for this culture not just at work, but within their homes, communities, and larger networks. Ultimately, the ripple effect could be so wide that we begin to think about living in a world where we build one another up, free of greed and power struggles, and no one gets hung up on things like skin color, background, disability, size, sexual orientation, gender, race/ethnicity, religion or age.

In my new role, I see myself as a resource to help ATers navigate their internal journeys to fully understanding the origins of racism, patriarchy, power and privilege in order to be better attuned to its impacts so we can create a workplace where everyone can thrive. Our commitment begins with deeper reflection and the courage to experience what’s uncomfortable in order to grow. This type of personal and organizational investment is massive, but the rewards are even greater.

Since I started on the job eight weeks ago, I have accomplished a discovery phase, diving into policies, procedures, and workplace culture to understand the organization and employee needs. I have connected with ATers every day over that time, aiming to meet with all of the agency’s employees. The goal is to ensure that the voices of AT’s people are embedded within our DEI strategy in order to truly build a culture where no employee lacks psychological safety and all come in as their full selves. We’ll continue to take steps toward diversity, equity and inclusion because, after all, when we look at the goal of DEI, it is obtained only through a continuous journey.

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About the Author

Gretchen Kren is the Senior Communications specialist at AbelsonTaylor. A 15 year vet in pharmaceutical advertising, with over 10 years experience Coordinating internal and external marketing and communication initiatives. Additionally, she is responsible for all of the agency’s award submissions. Gretchen lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her husband and three children.