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What happens next: 10 non-COVID health care predictions for 2021

December 10, 2020, 9:43 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

We’ve had an annual tradition as of late here at the Capsule: Featuring the sage wisdom and insights of Venrock partners Bob Kocher and Bryan Roberts, a duo of veteran health care investors, on what the coming year holds for the industry.

Bob and Bryan have been sharing their thoughts with us for years and, as strange and chaotic as 2020 was, this year is no different.

For the 2021 edition of their crystal ball-gazing, the pair offer up 10 predictions for the coming year. And in a twist, they span important medical topics and trends that don’t all have to do with COVID.

The full list is here. But here are some choice selections:

Virtual care for Medicare takes off

“While there are not many silver linings to COVID-19, one benefit has been the dramatic increase in telemedicine adoption. Medicare is covering telemedicine for the first time on an emergency basis.”

“We think Medicare will make telemedicine coverage permanent. This will lead to seniors, similar to millennials, preferring telemedicine to in-person visits for much of their care.”

Recent evidence and an explosion of telemedicine use during the pandemic certainly supports that prediction.

No action on drug pricing

With the promise of multiple COVID-19 vaccines being invented and brought to market in record time, public opinion will turn very positive for pharmaceutical companies. This will squash all efforts to regulate drug prices for the next year (at least).

And of course, no predictions list would be complete without an Amazon shoutout…

Amazon pharmacy gains traction

We have been perennially skeptical of big tech gaining traction in healthcare. One exception is Amazon’s new pharmacy.

We think that Amazon will gain traction since COVID-19 has led to dramatically more eCommerce for all things and made pharmacies akin to nursing homes: scary places to visit since they are filled with sick and possibly COVID-19 contagious people.

Amazon’s consumer trust, incredible delivery speed, and low prices will allow them to take meaningful share from retail pharmacies.

Get more insights from Bob and Bryan here, read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee
sy.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

AWS launches health data standardization tool. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has launched Amazon HealthLake, a new web-based data organization tool meant to serve the health care and life sciences industries. In essence, the service can pull disparate data streams which may be disorganized and pool them into a centralized database with a standardized set of information that's easier to decipher. Of course, machine learning and AI play a central role in deciphering the data and transforming them into a centralized hub. (FierceHealthcare)

INDICATIONS

Pfizer's big day at the FDA. As you're reading this, a panel of experts who advise the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are debating the merits of Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID vaccine candidate. The FDA is actually live-broadcasting the debate on YouTube as this meeting will inform the agency's decision to grant the vaccine emergency authorization. If the advisory committee issues a positive verdict from the clinical trial data Pfizer has submitted, the full agency could grant emergency authorization in just a matter of days, with doses being handed out to priority groups such as health care workers and nursing home residents by some time next week.

THE BIG PICTURE

Our depleted health care workforce. My colleague Erika Fry spoke with Susan Salka, the CEO of the largest health care staffing company in the country, AMN Healthcare, on the pressures the pandemic has put on the industry's workforce. "What demand looks like now versus a year ago, versus what it looked like in the March, April, May time frame? It's considerably different," says Salka. "And that changes the dynamic a lot. First of all, the sheer numbers are enormous. In terms of the number of open positions that we have for nurses, they are roughly four times the levels that we saw during the first phase of the pandemic. Then it was pretty much all just ICU and COVID-related; now it's that plus just normal positions that can't get filled." (Fortune)

President-elect Biden's COVID priorities. President-elect Joe Biden, whose health care team has taken considerable shape in the past week with significant announcements such as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra tapped for HHS Secretary, has laid out three major priorities for fighting the COVID pandemic: Urging all Americans to voluntarily wear a mask for 100 days; administer 100 million COVID vaccine doses; and reopen a majority of the nation's schools within his first 100 days in office. Alongside Biden will be the likes of Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy and CDC director pick Rochelle Walensky, a prominent infectious disease specialist. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

Facebook's big fat lawsuitby Danielle Abril

The hacker 'ceasefire' with hospitals is overby Peter J. Beshar & Jane Holl Lute

U.S. airline workers seek priority for COVID vaccineby Bloomberg