At-home Clinical Trials and Other Covid Adjustments

Also featured: Vaccine rollouts, price checks and more

Editor’s note: Welcome to The PostScript Rewind, a biweekly recap of the latest in healthcare news. Featuring what you need to know — none of what you don’t.

Thousands of clinical trials in the U.S. ground to a halt when the pandemic hit. But it didn’t take long for researchers to get creative and find ways to put human studies back on track — in a remote way.

Shifting to virtual studies, the scientists mailed medications, conducted exams through online video chats and had patients monitor their own vitals at home.

That switch to remote studies could continue even when it’s safe for face-to-face interactions to resume. Many scientists say the shift is long overdue, and could ultimately make clinical trials cheaper, more efficient and more just.

Shoring up other impacts from the pandemic:

• More than a third of U.S. adults (under 65) put off healthcare because of COVID concerns last year. The majority of those who delayed care also had some chronic health conditions. A study also shows the impact to people of color was even higher, with Blacks and Latinos more likely to put off care.

• Life expectancy in the U.S. fell by one full year during the first half of 2020, attributed directly and indirectly to the pandemic. According to a CDC report, life expectancy now stands at 77.8 years, the lowest it’s been since 2006.

Retail pharmacies embrace vaccine rollout

A federal plan to get more vaccines shipped out also opens opportunities for major retail pharmacies to make an impact to communities most in need. Distribution equity could slow COVID spread in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods where cases, hospitalizations and deaths are higher.

CVS and Walgreens — which both have committed to reducing racial inequities — are implementing ways to expand vaccine distribution to underserved and vulnerable neighborhoods.

CVS is making vaccine registration easier for everyone, thanks to changes to its website that simplify the process.

Meanwhile, primary care physicians are largely an untapped resource for getting vaccines into arms. Nearly one-third have no idea if they’ll get the vaccine to administer. Less than 20 percent are currently giving the shots.

The struggles of giant start-ups

Industry giants that want to shake up the healthcare market may face struggles to launch — some from within. Internal challenges, time pressures, R&D constraints and a lack of understanding from leadership all can stifle efforts.

Other new endeavors:

• Humana is piloting a new integrated, personalized care program for people with chronic illnesses. Using advanced data analytics, the platform will connect patients with a multi-disciplinary team to address their individual needs.

• On the move: Google will open an office in Rochester, Minn., this year to put its team closer to the Mayo Clinic. A 10-minute walk from the Mayo campus, the new office will let Google engineers work closely with clinic scientists and researchers.

[H3] Price checks?

• In Minnesota, Democratic lawmakers are pushing to create an independent board to regulate prescription drug pricing. The seven-member board would set upper limits for the prices of drugs it considers unaffordable.

• Lawmakers in a handful of U.S. states are hoping to import lower drug prices from Canada since they still can’t import the actual drugs. The plan — known as an international price index or reference pricing — would cap payment for certain drugs, as compared to lowest Canadian prices.

• Technology breakthroughs, new business models and more engaged consumers are likely to impact future healthcare spending. Industry experts predict a transformation in healthcare revenue, with shifts to wellbeing and care delivery, data platforms, personalized care and more.

Rx tip of the week

Can a generic drug look totally different than its brand-name counterpart? Yes. Generic drugs are approved by the FDA to make sure they’re pharmaceutically equivalent to the brand-name medication, with the same active ingredients, strengths, uses and effectiveness. But if the “look” of the branded version is patented, the generic version cannot copy its exact shape, color or size. When you get a new prescription filled with a generic, take a look at the medication before you leave the pharmacy. If you have questions, ask the pharmacist. (Editor’s note: More details from the FDA.)

–Eric Wu, ScriptHero clinical pharmacist

This article is intended for informational purposes only and not intended to be medical advice, nor does it replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any healthcare questions, please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call your physician or dial 911 immediately.

About the author

Victoria Ellwood is a writer and storyteller in central Ohio, where she writes about everything from academia, the arts and agriculture to healthcare, Shakespeare and small-town living. Her work’s been featured in Modern Farmer and magazines and websites for The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences, College of Nursing, Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, University Libraries, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and Small Nation Strong.

This article was last updated March 01, 2021

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