Editor’s take – Health care and life sciences: Uncertainty, innovation and a tough conversation about technology

The reading habits of SmartBrief's health care audiences provide a unique window into the priorities and interests of professionals across the health care space, and our newsletter engagement data also sheds light on what's keeping our readers up at night. We serve health care insurers, providers and IT professionals, as well as audiences in pharma and medtech. Here's what was top of mind for all of them in Q1, as well as a look at what's next.

Regulatory uncertainty

Between the departure of FDA chief Scott Gottlieb, continued uncertainty around the future of the Affordable Care Act – just when it appeared that had quieted down – and an increasingly vocal debate around “Medicare-for-all,” health policy and regulatory uncertainty has been a dominant topic in the news for health care and life sciences audiences.

What’s next: In the life sciences, all eyes are on oncologist Ned Sharpless as he steps into a new role as acting director of the FDA. Gottlieb has taken an aggressive stance on vaping, drug costs and other issues, while working to modernize FDA policy in other areas, but the work will depend on Sharpless’ support if it is to continue. Meanwhile, health care access is poised to again fuel heated discussions in Congress, where word has it lawmakers were surprised by the administration’s announcement that it will not fight a ruling striking down the ACA. It will, of course, also be a hot topic for the field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for 2020.

Wrestling with -- and reimagining -- health care delivery

Conversations about the quality of health care – both when it works well and when it doesn’t – continue to fuel efforts to optimize decision making, reduce spending and improve outcomes. Experiments are happening everywhere: the employer market, health care providers large and small, insurers, retail. The list goes on, and the data is starting to trickle in.

What’s next: This is a long game, so innovation and experimentation will continue, and it will take time for the effects of recent consolidation – CVS-Aetna, Cigna-Express Scripts, the recently announced Centene-WellCare merger – to become apparent. But it’s also clear employers like Walmart and partnerships like Haven are moving forward to fill gaps wherever they see them.

Health IT headaches, and remedies

A long simmering frustration with electronic health records was split wide open when a Kaiser Health News-Fortune investigation shined a very bright spotlight on the ways in which EHRs have not delivered as anticipated. Meanwhile, the CMS took action to address poor interoperability – a source of some of those problems. Partnerships were formed, and potential disrupters from tech like Apple and Amazon continued to explore opportunities in health care.

What’s next: The effects of CMS rule-making and requests for information will take time to become clear, but the conversation around EHRs is just heating up. Before his departure, former FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb floated interesting questions about regulation in this space, while visionary physician Eric Topol touts a new kind of patient centricity enabled by technology that also frees doctors from their screens. Getting real about problems in medicine has a wonderful way of sparking innovation, so expect more new thinking to come.

Check out a snapshot of the top health care and life sciences stories from Q1:

Melissa Turner is director of health care and life sciences content at SmartBrief. She edits science, medical and health care delivery newsletters and oversees development of content marketing pieces for SmartBrief’s health care clients.

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This feature reflects the most read items across SmartBrief's health care and life sciences publications. Check out all of SmartBrief’s health care newsletters, covering health IT, news for insurers, news for providers and more to get news like this delivered straight to your inbox. Also, be sure to check out opportunities to reach SmartBrief's readers with your own content and solutions.