GSW's year-ahead forecast includes pricing debates, changing script models and informed patients

It's the most wonderful time of the year--for 2016 predictions.

Healthcare communications agency GSW recently unveiled its 8 emerging trends that include a range of topical issues from clinical trials and drug costs to healthcare provider and caregiver issues.

Drug costs, obviously, is a big one for pharma, noted in the report as the "How much?" trend. As GSW noted, the war on prescription drug prices is not only here to stay, but has been re-energized by politicians, patients, physicians and payers going into 2016.

GSW chief innovation officer Leigh Householder

"The headline is about price, but the debate is really about value," said Leigh Householder, senior VP, chief innovation officer at GSW, which is part of inVentiv Health, in an interview with FiercePharmaMarketing. "When you have these increases in price, people want to know what value are we getting for that? … So the industry is beginning to talk about value in new ways.

"For instance, for the first time, payers are talking to pharma companies to partner with to achieve better patient outcomes. They're talking about the value beyond clinical outcomes that help patients be successful."

Another pharma issue highlighted in the report is what GSW called "Prescribed prescriptions," in which payers, administrators and patients' pocketbooks are changing and often limiting what healthcare providers can prescribe.

She noted there are ways pharma can get involved, especially with patients facing high deductibles, who are self-limiting their prescriptions by walking away from pharmacies without their drugs. Householder pointed to Truveris as a good example of new opportunities there for pharma companies. Its software can allow drugmakers to dynamically generate coupons and create copay help at the point of purchase, giving patients a chance to try the drug and begin to see clinical benefits.

Another trend, "First visit, second opinions," speaks, in part, to the effect of DTC advertising. GSW notes that patients are going to their physicians already well-informed "with strong opinions about what's wrong and what they need to feel better." Some of that information comes from direct-to-consumer advertising on TV and online.

Overall, Householder said she thinks pharma companies are shifting to adapt to the coming trends.

"I work with a range of pharma marketers and they're all having conversations about things like how to get into retail to educate patients and how to have complex conversations about payments," she said, adding, "I've heard people say things about pharma getting left behind, but I wonder if the healthcare conversation is just getting bigger. Pharma's role is evolving, but I don't know if it has to revolutionize. I just think more and different players will be involved where it used to be just pharma."

- download the GSW report