Trends for pharma in 2019? Stressed docs, data drivers, price populism and more, says Syneos Health

With 2018 almost in the bag, it’s time to look to the pharma trends percolating for 2019. Back for another gander into the crystal ball is Syneos Health, formerly InVentiv Health pre-merger with INC Research, with its latest annual prognosticating report due out Tuesday.

With 10 key findings and dozens of pages of interviews, it’s a bit much to tackle in one story. (See the report tomorrow at or text “Trends” to 66866 today to get first dibs.) But Leigh Householder, managing director of innovation and insight at Syneos Health Communications, chatted with FiercePharma to point out some highlights particularly germane to the pharma industry.

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First up, physician burnout. In a trend Syneos calls the “Rewired HCP,” doctors are losing autonomy and control as they join healthcare groups instead of running smaller offices themselves. And that’s making more physicians overwhelmed and unhappy. Some 42% say they’re burned out, Householder said, and 15% are actually depressed. While physicians will start to speak out and speak up about mental health issues more often, pharma can do its part to make their lives easier by distilling clinical information to the important elements.

Another way pharma can pitch in for doctors is with field reimbursement specialists—Syneos now has 300 in the field— whose entire job is to help doctors and practices navigate reimbursement and teach effective and efficient paths to accessing new drugs.

“It’s not in any way trying to get around the process; they’re trying to teach people complex processes so they can confidently navigate [them],” she said. One person she interviewed told her, “Writing a prior authorization is like writing a dissertation on the product.”

Drugmakers also face new demands for data-driven insights. Data issues aren’t completely new, of course, but pharma companies face increasing pressure to do more with less—and that, in turn, means it’s tougher to gain corporate buy-in for new strategies and ideas. Pharma companies are tapping partners for data-driven models or simulations that show them what to expect from proposed projects. They also want deep dives into behavioral science, as well as search data and claims codes to get a “branch and tree” map of patient journeys.

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And of course, no one is going into 2019 without a drug pricing discussion. Syneos calls its trend the “Values Puzzle,” casting it as an old debate reframed by innovation, politics and data. The trend of “price populism,” helped along by the current U.S. administration, will have pharma companies watching for two key movements, Householder said. That is, either a decrease in the overall price of drugs or a decline in the country's share of the global spending pie. Although not much can be done about the political or even economic variables in the drug pricing equation, pharma companies can think ahead by assessing the value of their work and innovation in that context.

“Something has happened in the public dialogue in which we’ve lost the thread that some of the most amazing innovations of our lifetimes are medicines. We keep getting down in this price fight, instead of being part of a change that’s helping people live longer, healthier lives. I think some pharma companies are trying to make that shift, and I hope we see more of it,” she said, adding, “If there’s one thing our industry can do it’s to keep telling the stories about the real change in individual lives.”