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Providers, payers and pharma came together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. What's in store for the trio after the pandemic?

Nothing brings healthcare stakeholders together like a pandemic  from a speedy vaccine rollout to setting up telehealth platforms within weeks, providers, payers and the pharmaceutical industry had to work together to weather the changes brought on by COVID-19.

So what’s next for these healthcare industry partnerships when the pandemic is over? In the HIMSS21 Digital panel What’s Next: Payer-Provider-Pharma Relationships in a Post-Pandemic Landscape, panelists Dr. Shantanu Nundy, chief medical officer at Accolade, and Saira Haque, PhD, senior director for clinical informatics at Pfizer, discuss how the pandemic has changed partnerships and what the industry can learn from the past year.


Nundy found it was powerful for different healthcare stakeholders to band together around one ambitious target: getting shots in arms, a goal that’s still underway. Nearly half of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

If the industry can collaborate around the development and distribution of a vaccine, it’s possible to target other health goals, like reducing blood pressure, said Nundy.

For Haque, collaboration wasn’t new for many healthcare industry players. But the vaccine rollout was a different animal.

“I think what was different this time was the degree of collaboration and where it spanned,” Haque said. “It was in every phase from vaccine development through manufacturing, rollout and of course getting all the relevant approvals, and finally to distribution and administration.”


Nundy, who also practices in a safety-net clinic, said he had never done a telehealth visit prior to the pandemic. But his clinic was able to transition to telehealth quickly at the start of the emergency, moving to 80% virtual care within two weeks. He estimates around 30% to 40% of his appointments are still conducted through telehealth.

“We’ve learned to trust care delivered virtually,” Nundy said.

Before the pandemic, one barrier to telehealth adoption was a lack of data, Haque said. Although there were plenty of smaller pilot studies, there wasn’t enough information on utilization, cost and quality to drive large-scale policy change. 

But COVID-19 created a sort of “natural experiment” to look at telehealth’s impact, like provider workload and patient satisfaction.

Haque suggested telehealth could also expand outside the provider space, including social workers, diabetes educators and care coordinators.

“If we can do that, we can really provide more comprehensive care,” she said. “And then the setting isn’t really as relevant as making sure we can provide care in a way that doesn’t provide too many barriers for the patient.”


The public health sector has been massively underfunded, said Nundy. According to a 2021 report by Trust for America’s Health, the CDC’s core budget has decreased by 2% over the last 10 years when accounting for inflation. And from 2008 to 2019, the number of full-time local public health workers fell by 16%. State health agencies lost almost 10% of their workforce between 2012 and 2019.

People don’t pay enough attention to public health until it’s needed, Haque said. 

“I would love to see an increased focus on public health and having public health officials more involved in some of these conversations going forward,” she said.

Public health has a huge impact on health equity, said Nundy, arguing the healthcare system is already missing a huge portion of the population if care only begins when someone steps into a clinic.

“Investing in the private sector and innovation isn’t a substitute for investing in public health.”

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