Cost, carrots, diversity and dreams: 5 lessons from the 2018 Haas Healthcare Conference

On the spectrum of innovation in healthcare, it’s way too easy to fall into the extremes. Healthcare conversations often vacillate between the pessimism of “here’s a list of unsolvable problems” or the futurism of “precision medicine and AI mean we’ll live forever.” Which is why I look forward to the Haas Healthcare Conference every year. There’s a balance at this event, a focus on what can change from the technology and policy sides to address the biggest issues in patient outcomes and healthcare cost in the next few years. It’s a perspective that results from the conference being organized by students from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley with crossover from the schools of public health, information, translational medicine and public policy. These are pragmatic, optimistic future leaders!

Here are five big lessons on creating sustainable change in healthcare I picked up at #HaasHealth2018 last week:

It’s more for less, dummies – Innovation is a favorite buzzword in healthcare – however, the real meaning seems to get diluted in our sector’s complicated economics. Traditionally, innovation in business means finding ways to deliver “more for less” to consumers. We have plenty of new ideas in the sector and yet still face dramatically rising healthcare costs and dropping lifespans in the US. The day’s first speaker, Jason Girzadas (@jgirzadas) from Deloitte, talked about what’s driving real innovation, mostly MACRA’s shift to value-based care and CMS innovation around payment.

Health data exchange requires incentives – A second big theme tied to the broken economic drivers in the healthcare sector. Julia Adler-Milstein (@j_r_a_m) from UCSF started with the question: “can the competitive instincts that keep healthcare organizations hoarding data be overcome?” The answer was a tentative yes – only if we get over a naive belief that hospitals and practices will share patient data because it’s the right thing to do and instead focus on real bottom-line incentives (aka carrots and sticks). It was perfect timing related to an announcement I’d been working on earlier in the week that Blue Shield of California is becoming the first health plan to require health data exchange for all their network hospitals and providers.

Diversity creates better conversations about healthcare – The speaker lineup and audience at this event was a veritable United Nations of healthcare voices. By my count, around 70% of the speakers were women. During the startup competition pitches most founders highlighted the diversity of the teams as a major asset. There was even a pregnant executive from Fitbit on one panel. It was a beautiful fever dream compared to the mix at the HIMSS or JPMorgan Healthcare conferences. Conversations about the future of health certainly benefit with a diversity of perspectives from future innovators and patients. Nice work by Paul Norton and his co-chairs.

Dream of sustainable revenue models – My favorite quote of the conference, and one I hope I’ll repeat to so many clients came from Dr. Cameron Sepah (@DrSepah):

“Dream big but understand healthcare business models.”

Far too many talented healthcare entrepreneurs start with big ideas and good intentions just to stumble when trying to figure out who will pay for their product. Hint: It’s pretty much never going to be doctors or patients.

Don’t stop believing – It was the exhausted end of seven hours of healthcare conference when Chris Waugh (@_waugh) took the stage for the final keynote. His session on the innovation program at Sutter Health had most of the audience choked up in just a few minutes. He showed how focusing on patient experience with empathy and humanity is helping the health system reduce costs. Little things like the sound experience at end of life to a new device that allows blood to be drawn through an existing IV line. Sutter Health was smart to bring over this IDEO alumni to lead their innovation programs.

I left feeling inspired that we can have nice things in healthcare while also reducing costs and improving outcomes. It’s a beautiful vision for where our sector is headed in the next decade and I can’t wait to see what they have lined up for next year’s event!

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