Here at TWTW headquarters, we’re loyal fans of many things…like coffee, kale* and Kaiser Family Foundation polls. Football, however, doesn’t show up as often on our list of faves.

But we’re suckers for a good story, and this Super Bowl Sunday has it all: politics, money, romance and even goats. So whether you’re a die-hard Patriot, a newish Rams fan (👋 Syneos Health LA office) or our colleague Miriam - who didn’t know the Super Bowl was this weekend - we hope you have a great SBS.

Until then, we’ve got a prescription for your Saturday: blankets, coffee and a thermostat set above 65 degrees.


28 Monday

 We appreciate Axios’ unique approach to crunching healthcare data. Exhibit 2,981: On Monday, they found that if Humira “were its own company, it would have almost the same amount of annual sales as Southwest Airlines or Visa and would be more than twice the size of the Hilton global hotel chain.” Reporter Bob Herman is invited to our Super Bowl party.

29 Tuesday

 Guess who’s back, back again? The government’s back, tell a friend. Congress doubled down on drug pricing, kicking off the day with a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee, followed by an after-party in the House Oversight Committee (Eminem was not in attendance). Some topics of discussion? Price increases, R&D spending and specialty drugs. You KNOW Paul Tyahla has thoughts on this. Forward This

30 Wednesday

 Scott “This Looks Like a Job For Me” Gottlieb got in on the drug pricing action, announcing new efforts to refresh the Orange Book, the database of FDA-approved drugs and relevant information on their exclusivity and patents. The effort is intended to enhance the Orange Book’s value as a tool for generic drug developers, and increase competition.

31 Thursday

 HHS Secretary Alex Azar said “everybody just follow me” and put forth a proposal to revise safe harbor rules to require PBMs who serve the Medicare program to pass discounts down to patients. Shares of both CVS and Cigna (who owns Express Scripts) fell about 2.6% in late trading, because it feels so empty without me (aka PBMs/Eminem).


 After a brutal week of weather (aka -77 degrees F in one Minnesota town), people were looking hopefully towards the tropical temps around 30 degrees projected for the weekend in New York, Chicago and DC. But the impact of the polar vortex won’t be soon forgotten. As of Friday, the storm had caused 21 deaths, cost retailers and restaurants almost $1 billion, and grounded nearly 8,000 flights. **That’s the sound of us getting back in bed.**

An Apple a day keeps the doctor away at your fingertips

A few weeks ago, we included a quote from Apple CEO Tim Cook in a recent CNBC interview. "If you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, 'What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' It will be about health." Truth be told, that sparked our interest and we’ve been digging deeper ever since. We’re talking 76-page-market-research-deck deep, to understand the implications, challenges and potential competition tech may bring to healthcare. Please join us on this nerd-journey.

While Apple isn’t the only tech company that has set its sights on the healthcare industry, they certainly stand out. They’re not just talking the voice-activated talk; they’re making serious moves.

  • Apple has been working on Personal Health Records since 2013, and now has numerous partnerships with labs and hospitals to make health data compatible and easily accessible to patients.
  • Since 2017, Apple job postings for “health” related positions are up 400%.
  • Apple has been steadily increasing their patents for “wearables” and “health informatics” for years (even though they made little noise about health on earnings calls).  

Just this month, Apple announced two big partnerships with key players in healthcare.

  • Aetna and Apple, The Attain project: Through this partnership Aetna will help patients pay off the cost of an Apple Watch through achieving certain health goals (think, working out or getting preventative vaccines).
  • J&J and Apple tackle aFib: A recently announced study will evaluate the combined use of a J&J medication adherence app and the Apple Watch’s irregular rhythm notification capability, an approach they hope will accelerate diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.

Also on the horizon is a potential deal with the VA to help “modernize” their electronic medical records, and a partnership with Medicare Advantage plans to offer watches to members at a subsidized cost.

So what does Apple bring to an industry that has been mostly dominated by traditional healthcare players?

  • An extensive customer base, one that is significantly larger than most healthcare companies’. For example, there are nearly 90MM iPhone users in the U.S., whereas Anthem has about 40MM members.
  • Their direct relationship with their customers provides significantly more brand recognition than traditional healthcare players. People may not know the name of the company that makes their medicine, but they definitely know who makes their phone.  
  • Apple isn’t working within the same payment model as insurers, health systems or drug makers. This allows Apple significant flexibility, and is something Tim Cook has focused on publicly: “When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma…they are done to get the reimbursement…if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”

So what's in it for Apple? Patient data, and lots of it.

Our Take: Did you just fall asleep and wake up in the digital health era? Not exactly. But these developments are really important for our industry, whether your company is or isn’t pursuing this type of innovation.

What's next: Companies are finding new ways to collect and monetize patient data, which is a whole new can of worms. We’re tracking these developments closely, and thinking about the sensitive issues associated with data privacy. We'll have more for you on that topic in a few weeks, surrounding the HIMSS health tech conference.blank


Syneos Spotlight

Our colleague, and former FDA Associate Commissioner, Peter Pitts moderated a panel discussion about expanded access at the National Press Club in Washington last week. Peter shares some of his thoughts about the economics of expanded access in STAT.blank

 Who wrote this? The managing editors of TWTW are Dana Davis, who was living in Chicago during the last Polar Vortex and Randi Kahn, who can't wait for buffalo wings during the Super Bowl.

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.

Got thoughts?  Contact Dana Forward This Send to Linkedin

Have any friends? Let us know and we'll sign them up for TWTW. Forward This

Feeling nostalgic?  We get it. Check out old TWTW issues here.

*RIP Tuck Shop

Image credits: Congress by MRFA from the Noun Project, ban by from the Noun Project, Temperature by Ashley Worobec from the Noun Project, Apple by Arthur Shlain from the Noun Project, Spotlight by Olyn LeRoy from the Noun Project

About the Author:

Dana Davis is a strategist in the Reputation & Risk Management Practice, where she helps biopharma clients communicate the value they bring to their stakeholders. Her expertise lies in issues of corporate activism; advising companies that must respond to activist tactics from patients, employees, or investors, as well as companies looking to take a proactive stance on social issues.

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.