Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

IDNs are pharma’s ‘new’ strategic partners

By Joe Stevens, Matthew Ruple, and Tyler Humphrey

Aug. 27, 2021 | Article | 4-minute read

IDNs are pharma’s ‘new’ strategic partners

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The COVID-19 pandemic has solidified the need for life sciences organizations to strategically partner with integrated delivery networks (IDNs). Partnerships between these two healthcare ecosystem stakeholders aren’t new, of course, but they’re gaining traction around different objectives. To partner effectively, pharma companies need to design valuable solutions that align with IDNs’ needs, whether that’s strengthening finances, achieving clinical excellence or improving the patient experience. The partners also must develop a deep understanding of each other’s top priorities and goals—with an appreciation for how COVID-19 has altered the landscape and accelerated a few existing trends.


There are a few factors at play here. A segment of patients who were engaging with healthcare systems are no longer engaging, which leads to bad patient outcomes, reduced business for the healthcare provider and, ultimately, reduced sales of pharma products. Conversely, there’s a segment of patients who are engaging, but in a new way: via telehealth. Telehealth brings many challenges for providers, but it also brings new opportunities for pharma to provide value at the point of care. Beyond the pressures of clinical care, institutional stakeholders are saddled with information technology and data challenges, reimbursement pressure from health plans and cost-cutting measures from the government.


A ZS survey of 112 IDN executives revealed an overall increase in their willingness to partner with manufacturers, compared with a similarly fielded survey in 2019. We found that IDNs are interested in partnering in areas including care efficiency, real-world evidence, patient management and reimbursement support solutions. There was particularly strong interest in partnering on remote patient engagement, telehealth reimbursement advocacy and other programs that directly relate to the care delivery changes that have taken place in the last two years.


While the Quadruple Aim continues to be a primary strategic focus for IDNs, the “aim” that receives the most attention has evolved. COVID-19’s lasting financial impact requires providers to prioritize the bottom line more than ever. In fact, a majority (83%) of the IDN executives we surveyed identified increasing revenue as their organization’s top priority. This focus narrowly eclipsed the next top priority for IDNs, with 82% of survey participants expressing interest in providing quality care and improving patient outcomes. Each of these is an entry point for life sciences organizations that are looking to partner or collaborate. 

While life sciences companies have long had the opportunity to strategically partner with providers, both parties have been reticent to engage due to real or perceived barriers. But that’s changing. In fact, two-thirds of the IDN executives we surveyed expressed interest in partnering with life sciences manufacturers to address challenges from the pandemic. The question is, what do these partnerships look like?


IDNs generally are interested in pursuing four types of partnerships. Let’s take a closer look at each type and the criteria that providers consider:

  1. Care efficiency and optimization: Based on our survey, IDN executives rated this type of program as having high value to their organization, with an average rating of 5.1 on a 7-point scale. In fact, 42% of IDN executives are interested in partnering to optimize provider care delivery through early detection, EHR updates, pathways and care coordination. While this partnership category was of interest to IDNs before the pandemic, the types of partnerships being pursued within this category have evolved due to COVID-19. For example, providers previously expressed a high degree of interest in physician education involving disease awareness and available treatment options. Today, they need educational programming around stress and anxiety management to mitigate COVID-19-related challenges.
  2. Real-world evidence generation and analysis: Nearly two-thirds (63%) of IDN executives listed this partnership among their top three (of the eight total programs tested). This program category was met with sporadic interest in the past, but with significant interest in today’s climate. As the care paradigm evolves, IDNs are navigating the potential long-term effects of COVID-19. Specifically, fewer patients are seeking care but more patients (who are seeking care) are engaging via atypical sites of care including telehealth. As such, they have expressed the need to closely monitor and measure patient outcomes and related conditions in the coming years. Real-world evidence, such as longitudinal studies, will undoubtedly help to inform key IDN initiatives like continuing population health efforts, addressing the needs of high-risk populations and overcoming health disparities.
  3. Patient management: This category represents another partnership type of high importance to providers in present times. In the past, IDNs largely viewed patient adherence and educational programs as table stakes. However, providers now have realized that their telemedicine solutions are only effective when they can effectively diagnose, treat and monitor the patient remotely. When tested in the survey, “remote patient management applications” received strong ratings across respondents (an average of 5.2 on a 7-point scale in terms of value to the organization), in addition to the highest “likelihood to adopt” score of all programs tested. With the swift adoption of telehealth across the nation, providers have become increasingly open to the delivery of care beyond their walls and are beginning to see the true potential remote care could bring in proactively managing their high-risk patients. In our survey, providers expressed interest in both standalone remote applications, as well as add-ons which seamlessly integrate with their current telehealth platforms.
  4. Reimbursement support and policy-shaping: This category was a key focus for provider organizations before the pandemic and remains so. In fact, IDN respondents continued to rate this as a high-value program for their institutions, with an average score of five out of seven. These programs can help IDNs address the financial challenges and loss of insurance that some patients are experiencing due to pandemic-driven mass unemployment. While most pharma companies already have robust patient support programs that are being used by nearly all the patients who could benefit from them, IDNs would appreciate any extra assistance. Pharma companies can focus on making the enrollment process easier and smoother to alleviate some of the pressures that providers have faced in recent months.

While organized providers were already open to partnering with drug manufacturers prior to COVID-19, the types of programs of interest in today’s environment have evolved. The core strategic goals of the Quadruple Aim haven’t changed but new macrodynamics are putting pressure on healthcare systems to achieve them. IDNs are looking for partners to help address issues like staffing shortages that are affecting the well-being of their care teams and lower patient volumes that are having a downstream effect on margins. These are just a few of the factors prompting life sciences companies to align their strategies with the current needs of their customers. After all, the goal is to form partnerships that create value for both IDNs and drug manufacturers.

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