Healthcare Industry Perspectives

HLTH VRTL 2020: Quality Dialogue with a Virtual Twist

October 27, 2020

HLTH became another name on the growing list of events and conferences impacted by the pandemic this year. This did not, however, stop HLTH VRTL 2020 from cultivating meaningful space for discourse, education and networking. This year’s conference traded the bright lights of Las Vegas for backlit computer screens and home-offices; a setting which, at this point in 2020, seems more normal than it once did.

Not swayed by the remote setting, the speaker list comprised of leading healthcare executives, legislators, entrepreneurs and more. This coupled with a slick online platform and an easy-to-use networking portal enabled HLTH VRTL 2020 to feel just about as personal as possible, considering the remote nature. Session structures ranged from more informational updates about key initiatives and partnerships to friendly debates regarding pivotal healthcare topics.

While numerous themes and trends were discussed and debated throughout the week, there is one theme, COVID-19, that cannot be avoided. This being said, the pandemic’s impact on the following areas surfaced frequently during HLTH VRTL 2020: Technology adoption, the relationship between mental and physical health, and the democratization of healthcare.

COVID-19’s Impact on Technology Adoption
The impact of the pandemic on technological advancement across healthcare has truly revolutionized care delivery as we know it. The most meaningfully impacted healthcare technology throughout the pandemic has been, without a doubt, virtual health. Yes, telemedicine utilization rates have backed off their COVID-19 highs, but the run-rate utilization still remains orders of magnitude above pre-pandemic levels.

Favorable reimbursement shifts coupled with pandemic driven isolation created the perfect storm for virtual health’s utilization explosion. Roy Schoenberg, President and CEO of Amwell, debated Mario Schlosser, CEO of Oscar, regarding the future fate of telehealth. The discussion clearly articulated the fact that telemedicine’s goal is not to displace all in-person healthcare. Rather, the goal is to strike a balance between those services which can be effectively delivered over video and those that cannot, thus creating more touch points throughout the system and greater uniformity for all patients, independent of geography.

Technology and virtual health, in particular, have a permanent role to play. The long-term impact of remote care delivery in rural America is to be seen, but the prospects are unparalleled. Lastly, telemedicine has the capacity to unlock one of the last, mostly untamed, frontiers in care delivery: the living room.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Relationship between Mental and Physical Health
Slow and steady progress has been made over the past years towards de-stigmatizing all forms of mental health, namely depression and anxiety. As this increasing awareness continues, so does the prevalence of said conditions. Mental health has been, as one speaker put it, a deadly undertow created by COVID-19.

Mental health’s connection with and impact on physical health became a frequently cited reality during HLTH VRTL 2020. Various leaders cited the impact of mental health on individuals’ likelihood to engage in a primary care setting, as well as the impacts on population health. As risk-sharing and risk-baring arrangements become commonplace, it’s not surprising that the stakeholders for a large group’s health now are giving increased attention to such an impactful area. For example, one discussion highlighted the 5x greater cost of treating heart failure patients with severe mental health problems versus those without. If ACOs and similarly structured arrangements continue to expand, which they will, given the on-going shift to value, then solving the care needs for a person’s entire being, including mental health, is paramount.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Democratization of Healthcare
Silver linings exist and all things indeed can be redeemed and used for good. COVID-19 has put a long-overdue spotlight on the fact that not all Americans have access to quality healthcare. This is principally driven by economic and geographic disparities. While disparate outcomes are more unpredictable in nature, significant improvement can be made towards minimizing variation in the quality of care delivered across geographies. To paraphrase Dr. Laurie Glimcher, CEO of Dana-Farber, not everyone in the country has access to a world-class, academic cancer institute. The task of significantly improving access to quality healthcare for all Americans can feel a bit like eating an elephant. Thankfully, dynamic innovation is happening right now, one bite at a time.

Many pathways to increasing access to quality care surfaced throughout the week. Affordable and efficacious chronic condition management, remote patient monitoring and telemedicine solutions topped the chart for mentions. Increasing emphasis on and awareness for primary care was reiterated as a key neutralizer for the healthcare system; the expanding role of primary care doctors and their impact on education and complex care management is also morphing daily. Cigna’s CEO, David Cordani, touted PPE and COVID-19 awareness kits that they shipped into under-served counties, as well as establishing primary care identification support for individuals without a PCP. Similarly, Alex Gourlay, Co-COO of Walgreens, emphasized the importance of expanding the pharmacist’s role in healthcare delivery. There is indeed a pharmacy on almost every corner and most notably, in most low-income and rural communities that may lack broader access to healthcare services.

HLTH VRTL 2020 continued last year’s momentum and drew a tremendous cohort of industry leaders, entrepreneurial start-ups, healthcare investors and advisors. Listening to brilliant healthcare speakers, who are committed to reinventing a disjointed system, is valuable. Networking with like-minded healthcare entrepreneurs and investors is valuable. Combining all the above for the advancement of healthcare and the well-being of the American public is invaluable. If HLTH remains even a shadow of its current self, next year and beyond, it will be a week well spent. See you in Boston in 2021!