Conference explores how to shape the health care industry

By Michael R. Malone

Conference explores how to shape the health care industry

By Michael R. Malone
A Miami Herbert Business School event showcases experts expounding on the coronavirus’ impact and what changes may be coming down the road.

Health care thought-leaders who attended a University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School virtual conference on Oct. 30 reimagined a healthier industry in the wake of the pandemic and detailed reforms “regardless who wins the election” that are likely to advance.

Highlighting the need for improved payment models, the blended use of technology, and heightened inclusion and diversity efforts among other reforms, “Business of Health Care Conference” panelists concurred that the pandemic has accelerated the need for major changes that were already underway within the industry.

“Many of us believe that we can take the lessons of the pandemic and not only adapt to a new normal, but build an even better normal,” said University President Julio Frenk, adding that “more than an agent of change, the pandemic has been an accelerator of change.”

Frenk, a renowned public health specialist and former health minister of Mexico, together with Ashish Jha, newly appointed dean of the School of Public Health and professor of health services, policy, and practice at Brown University, shared ideas in the opening session.

“One thing is certain. Health care is going to look very different in the next few years,” Frenk said. “Some of the changes are predictable, some are unpredictable, and some are malleable—we have the opportunity to shape the future.”

Jha identified four areas—payment models, increased technology blended with interpersonal communications, transparency, and rethinking job tasks—that exist within “the demilitarized zone of health policy” and that are likely to advance in the post-COVID-19 environment. “They’re going to get a lot of attention, regardless who wins the election,” he said.

He noted the incongruence of the financial burden on the industry prompted by the pandemic.

“Here we are in middle of the greatest health crisis in decades, if not the century, and the sector is losing jobs and bleeding financially. Hospitals full and losing money, how could that happen?” Jha questioned. “It only makes sense if you understand that we have a 50-year-history of using sub-optimal, piecemeal payment models. They’re going to have to change substantially—the pandemic has made clear that we can’t sustain the old approach.” 

According to Jha, academic medical centers and research hubs will emerge as among the heroes of the pandemic.

“There’s going to be an enormous amount of good will directed toward research centers and academic centers,” he said. “I expect to see large investment in basic science and infectious disease in a way that is going to bolster these centers so that we’ll be able to respond quickly to any virus that shows up.”

Yet, Jha likewise predicted that both state and federal budgets would be under incredible pressure in the next year or two because of the enormous costs incurred to service the pandemic crisis.

Dean John Quelch and Steve Ullmann, director of the business school’s Center for Health Management and Policy and special assistant to the provost, welcomed panelists. Ullmann noted the record number of virtual attendees and recognized that the relevance of the ninth annual conference “is perhaps no greater than today.”

Pat Geraghty, president and CEO of Florida Blue and GuideWell—the presenting sponsor of the conference—moderated the second session exploring “Health Care Access, People and Policy: COVID and Beyond.”

Geraghty was joined by Matthew Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans; Joseph Fifer, president and CEO of Healthcare Financial Management Association; Halee Fischer-Wright, president and CEO of Medical Group Management Association; Ernest Grant, president of American Nurses Association; Barbara McAneny, former president of AMA, CEO of New Mexico Oncology Hermatology Consultants; and Richard Pollack, president and CEO of American Hospital Association.

Geraghty and others highlighted the critical need for a national perspective and planning moving ahead.

“While certainly there are lots of things that will be executed locally when you’re dealing with a global pandemic, if it isn’t in one community today does not mean it will not be there tomorrow,” he said. “We can look at the map right now and see that every community has been impacted. We have to take a national perspective on some of the most critical issues.” 

Fischer-Wright emphasized that the pandemic has opened the opportunity to redefine how medical care is delivered.

“It’s been a catalyst to shift from thinking about caring for people who are ill to thinking about how to keep people healthy,” she said. “Right now we spend 80 to 90 percent of time and finances managing chronic care. We need to think about the long game which is how can we build a health care system that keeps our population well.”

Pressed by Geraghty to respond whether they favored fixing and improving or rejecting the Affordable Care Act, all of the panelists answered that they definitively supported maintaining and building upon the health care legislation.

Likewise, each said that it would be at least a year before a COVID-19 vaccine would be available in sufficient quantities for public distribution. 

Dr. Henri Ford, dean of the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, moderated the third session on “Diversity and Inclusion” and was joined by Rosalyn Carpenter, senior vice president and chief of diversity with CommonSpirit Health; Leon McDougle, president of the National Medical Association; and Ernest Grant, president of the American Nurses Association.

Ford opened by sharing statistics that highlighted the disparities affecting communities of color and other evidence showing there has been very little growth in increasing the number of Black and brown health care professionals graduating into the industry.

Grant, who represents some four million nurses, urged young people who might not yet be in leadership positions to do their best to hold institutions accountable.

“Look at your policies, and if you find inherent biases, call them out. Most hospitals have a governance team that reviews how biases affect minorities,” Grant said. “Call it to the attention of the powers that be.”

The panelists explored a range of measures that aim to increase diversity and inclusion and address biases, as well as transformations within the industry, especially those affecting the workforce. While artificial intelligence offers important opportunities, Ford urged caution and pointed to an AI study in South Africa, where the population was largely Black, yet the data was largely for Caucasian patients.

“We have to be very careful,” Ford said. “People who are importing the data may have their own biases, and if those biases are not held to account, then we are going to be perpetuating the biases.”