By: Udi Dotan
What does a crash course in healthcare in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts look like? In short, it is full of lessons in innovation, advancements and the power of data analytics in driving better decisions for consumers and businesses.
The December 3 MassTLC Healthcare Conference: Transforming Healthcare Through Technology and Innovation began with an inspiring keynote presentation by Roy Smythe, CEO of HX360 and Chief Medical Officer of Avia Health Innovation, who talked about the “Big Shift” in healthcare. Smythe boldly asserted that there’s never been a better time to effect change in healthcare in the US. He issued this challenge despite the government’s three failed attempts to improve the healthcare system over the last 50 years and with the US being ranked last in healthcare system performance in repeat studies by The Commonwealth Fund. Smythe posited that three vectors are aligning for change: 1) widespread acknowledgement that change needs to happen, 2) a digital revolution that is a forcing function for change, and 3) a large amount of investment dollars flowing into healthcare IT.
Historically, if you look past the last century, healthcare was available in our homes as we tended to our own. Our current medical system, however, is built around big box and small box facilities, namely hospitals, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes. As baby boomers age, healthcare facilities are not plentiful enough to meet the demands - there are not enough beds in skilled nursing outfits, for example. As individuals become more technologically savvy and empowered to care for themselves our current healthcare system has the chance to support new ways of providing and accessing care. The internet allows patients to research symptoms and diseases. Simple devices allow people to monitor and assess their conditions at home. We can take such information and become our own advocates, our own health coaches, rather than defer to doctors as the ultimate authorities. We have the chance to become true partners in managing our care.
Dr. Smythe’s keynote was followed by a reaction panel comprised of key stakeholders in the Massachusetts healthcare system: a payer, a provider, an innovator, and a patient representative. Led by moderator Joe Ternullo of Kinematix, healthcare leaders Jason Robart, of Blue Cross Blue Shield, Eric Isselbacher, MD of Massachusetts General Hospital, Paul Grabscheid of InterSystems, and Nancy Finn of The Society for Participatory Medicine, used Dr. Smythe’s keynote as a springboard for delving into the Massachusetts healthcare ecosystem now, and what the opportunities are for future impact and innovation.
We have all decried the current fee-for-service healthcare system as misaligned between the goals of reducing costs and improving outcomes. I’ve heard our system described as a team without a coach. Companies like Iora Health, with their direct pay system where patients have health advocates, and Twine Health, which has created a collaborative care platform with an open API and plans to be open source, are bucking the status quo. Athenahealth is modernizing healthcare data systems by using something familiar and common in many industries today - the cloud. Use of the cloud allows athenahealth to share data findings across clients so they can all benefit from the collective knowledge.
The massive amounts of data generated and collected by healthcare companies and providers can be leveraged to ensure quality care. Innovative companies are utilizing predictive analytics to improve healthcare outcomes. SimulConsult has built a database of rare diseases, their symptoms, and differential diagnoses to help practitioners identify instances of those rare diseases. While some may question the power of identifying rare diseases, Lynn Feldman, CEO of SimulConsult, points out that 8-10% of known diseases are “rare” diseases and so we can improve treatment when we better understand the cause. ConvergeHEALTH by Deloitte leverages claims and clinical data to develop healthcare models that can improve outcomes. There are myriad examples of data innovation in healthcare, and opportunities abound as data systems mature within the healthcare context. This in turn increases the alignment of incentives between payers, providers, and patients, which will generate more possibilities to leverage data in creative ways.
Another area of rapid innovation is the digital space as patients, doctors, and healthcare companies become more digitally aware. New products such as wearable and at-home devices allow consumers more freedom and enable doctors to receive the data and monitor their patients without the need for repeat office visits for important but simple tasks such as documenting blood pressure. Remote tracking devices, telehealth measures and digital technology can be used to reduce costs while improving health outcomes. Ultimately, adoption of consumer digital technology will not succeed with a web of technologies and interfaces, but rather, it will require creating a frictionless, integrated experience for consumers and providers.
Naomi Fried of Boston Children’s Hospital and Pam Reeve of The Commonwealth Group concluded the MassTLC Healthcare Conference in an engaging conversation, urging participants to see the change that is on the horizon. Dr. Fried noted that “Healthcare will look markedly different. Instead of going to brick and mortar providers, people are going to be more digitally enabled.” It’s a good time to be an advocate for change in healthcare.
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