IDNs want to partner with life sciences to improve patient outcomes

By Joe Stevens, Matthew Ruple, and Manasvi Bhardwaj

April 5, 2023 | Article | 6-minute read

IDNs want to partner with life sciences to improve patient outcomes

It’s been nearly three years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. health systems are still struggling with the fallout, with many still confronting financial difficulties. These challenges have four key drivers: virtual care, which is driving care outside hospital walls; the continued shift to value-based care; the rise of patient empowerment; and physician staffing shortages.


According to new ZS research, which was based on a 2022 survey of 92 integrated delivery network (IDN) executives across 72 organizations, health systems are looking across the healthcare ecosystem for partners, including life sciences organizations, to help address the drivers. This creates opportunity for life sciences organizations, and organizations that rise to the challenge are rewarded with both increased customer engagement and higher net promoter scores (NPSs). Crucially, we found that life sciences organizations in partnerships with IDNs continue to have higher NPSs, thereby turning these important accounts into advocates for the manufacturer.


The findings from the 2022 survey reinforce our results from previous surveys, which identified growing interest from IDN executives in partnering with life sciences organizations. What’s more, the types of partnerships IDN executives are looking for line up with their stated strategic goals, including improving patient outcomes and experience, nurturing employee engagement, reducing care delivery costs and more.

FIGURE 1: Top 5 strategic goals of provider organizations in the last 2 years

To help life sciences organizations better understand the best ways to engage with provider organizations, we’re focusing here on three of the most promising insights from our research:

  • Providers have increased their focus on achieving the Quadruple Aim and are open to partnerships that can help advance these goals.
  • IDNs identified care model transformation—enabled by accelerating investments in data, digital capabilities and technology—as a priority.
  • Provider organizations are putting more time, energy and resources into addressing health equity and are considering collaborations with community and life sciences organizations. 

IDNs focused on the Quadruple Aim make strides on employee engagement

IDNs are consistently looking for ways to achieve the Quadruple Aim, according to our surveys. In 2022, the aim that saw the biggest growth pertained to employee engagement. The number of IDN leaders who rated it as a top priority jumped from 47% in 2020 to 76% in 2022. Moreover, we found that health system leaders are done just paying lip service to employee engagement—they’re executing plans to improve it. Due to high provider burnout rates and attrition resulting from the pandemic, improving employee engagement is clearly a top priority.


As one pharmacy director told us, “We’ve had some turnover during the pandemic, so improving employee engagement obviously is a win-win for both parties.” Improving employee engagement requires many actions from employers, including giving employees more responsibilities, improving their pay, reducing administrative burden and investing in broadening their skill sets. 

FIGURE 2: Top 5 IDN initiatives and priority investments

IDNs are transforming care delivery models with data and technology

To achieve their goals and improve patient outcomes, most IDNs have implemented or plan to implement initiatives to transform the care delivery model. As shown in Figure 2, about 85% of IDNs are expanding virtual care delivery and home health and are investing in digital and data infrastructure.


According to our research, IDNs have accelerated their investments in enhancing data and digital capabilities as part of their efforts to assemble the building block technologies for connected care. As seen in Figure 3, data security, telehealth and workflow automation are the top focus areas for IDN digital transformation, with approximately 50% of respondents exploring initiatives in digital therapeutics, remote monitoring and home health.


However, we found that while IDNs are investing in data and technology, life sciences organizations are not commonly a preferred partner. Health systems tend to prefer technology companies in this space because of their innovation and their perceived lack of commercial motivations, according to executives we talked to.


One health system pharmacy director told us that he likes partnering with tech organizations because their “innovation pipeline is unsurpassed.” But the same director is open to partnering with life sciences for tools such as digital therapeutics.


This openness to collaboration presents an opportunity for life sciences organizations to showcase their expertise in digital therapeutics, patient data capture, data exchange, data analytics, population health studies and electronic health record analytics, all of which have the potential to make them attractive partners to IDNs. 

FIGURE 3: Top focus areas for IDNs for digital transformation

Life sciences organizations bring health equity expertise to partnerships

IDN executives rated health equity as a top priority for them in 2022. As health equity initiatives gain momentum in government and other business sectors, health systems are proactively incorporating it into their own operations. New payment models, such as the enhanced oncology model and standards promoted by the Joint Commission further incentivize providers to take action.


Eighty percent of the health leaders we surveyed are already engaged in or are planning to engage in health equity activities, many of which are being performed in conjunction with community organizations (60%) and government agencies (40%) to address unmet healthcare needs. However, only 27% of respondents are actively engaged with life sciences organizations on health equity, which suggests another significant opportunity for life sciences. One pharmacy director told us, “Health equity has been a bit challenging. There’s still the question of identification and looking for unmet needs. That’s where I may need to rely on a third party.”


Forty-five percent of IDN leaders said they were identifying opportunities for health equity programs, while a third highlighted a lack of partnership opportunities as a barrier. Other barriers included a lack of funds and resources, inability to gather and share data and a lack of ability to obtain leadership buy-in.


Life sciences organizations like Merck and Pfizer have successfully launched health equity partnerships with providers. Pfizer is working to develop a care pathway and improve outcomes among Black breast cancer patients at Emory Glenn Family Breast Center and Grady Memorial Hospital’s Avon Foundation Comprehensive Breast Center. And Merck’s Bridging the Gap:
Reducing Disparities in Diabetes Care program works with diverse partners to address social drivers of health in diabetes care. 

The current landscape is friendly to life sciences collaboration

Many of the insights uncovered in this research reflect an external IDN landscape that has positive implications for life sciences engagement and partnerships. A majority of provider organizations continue to express a strong interest in partnering with life sciences across multiple solution categories, such as patient management, organizational efficiency, care optimization, reimbursement support, evidence support, innovative contracting and others. While such partnerships can bring regulatory compliance challenges, such as those related to transfer of value, antikickback issues or inappropriate influence, there are many ways to mitigate the risks.


As we reflect on this research and our extensive client work with life sciences organizations in the area of key account management (KAM), we see several opportunities for manufacturers to evolve their engagement and partnership model. They can do this by:

  • Evolving their field matrix model to better serve the IDN channel
  • Putting a spotlight on health equity interventions, including offering programs to support local communities and addressing social drivers of health
  • Driving innovation with digital and data initiatives
  • Building a real capability to design and deliver strategic partnerships where parties can collaborate on addressing unmet needs

Engaging effectively with IDNs requires carefully understanding their needs, a sophisticated engagement model and a clear value strategy. As life sciences organizations evolve from nascent KAM capabilities to more advanced KAM capabilities, they will require new types and levels of marketing strategy, support and partnerships.

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