Health care specialists probe new technologies, industry challenges

By Michael R. Malone

Health care specialists probe new technologies, industry challenges

By Michael R. Malone
Leaders from various sectors of health care discussed telehealth, nursing shortages, and workplace issues at the 11th annual Business of Health Care Conference held last week at the University of Miami and livestreamed to more than a thousand viewers.

Top health experts from the United States and the Americas promoted the evolution of a more consumer-focused industry as they explored the range of innovations spurred by the devastating pandemic at the Business of Health Care Conference, which carried the theme “Technology, Access, and the New Normal.”  

University of Miami President Julio Frenk opened the hybrid forum, which featured a live event on campus that also was streamed, highlighting that the pandemic has provided “the most dramatic illustration” that health care—at the crossroads of nearly every dimension of society—has exposed troubling inequalities in terms of access and quality.    

“At this junction more than ever, health care is at the threshold of a new era—with greater challenges and greater opportunities than have been present ever before,” said Frenk, a former health minister for Mexico who is now navigating his sixth pandemic as a public health expert.

“Health is a means for collective and individual advancement and therefore the way we care for health is an indicator of the success of a society,” Frenk added. “Health care is a bellwether of how society achieves its most important goals—promoting well-being, development security, and social justice.”

Ernest Grant, president of the American Nurses Association, acknowledged that while nursing shortages are not new to the industry, the current pandemic-exacerbated scenario is unprecedented. As a remedy, he urged Congress to support increased funding for training and education.

“We’re seeing a confluence of people getting ready to retire—the average age of bedside nurses is 50—and about 19 percent of our nursing workforce is readying to retire in the next few years,” Granted reported. General population growth and an increase in the numbers of elderly requiring care are fueling the need for more nurses, at a time when reports of abusive patient behavior are on the rise.

“We need to address these workplace issues and put into place a safe working environment so that people will want to come into nursing and other areas of health care and stay,” Grant said.

Joseph Fifer, president and CEO of Healthcare Financial Management Association, cited statistics indicating patient use of telehealth had leaped from 13 percent pre-pandemic to 83 percent. Yet Rachel Villanueva, president of the National Medical Association, the largest and oldest national organization representing Black physicians and hospitals, pointed out that many in underserved communities were able to access only by phone, not the preferred video visit, because of poor internet service.

Pat Geraghty, president and CEO, GuideWell and Florida Blue, again the conference’s principal sponsor, moderated the opening session to assess the impact of technologies and access on patients and providers.

The panelists all concurred that telehealth has emerged as a tremendous asset and “one of the true legacies of the pandemic,” yet cited the need for best practices to be developed and shared to improve efficiencies and address the range of variations that have surfaced in this delivery method.

Norma Sue Kenyon, vice provost for innovation and chief innovation officer for the Miller School of Medicine, moderated an afternoon session assessing new technologies.

Jay Wohlgemuth, chief medical officer at Quest Diagnostics, shared the company’s efforts launched during the pandemic—providing tests in parking lots, in retail stores, and self-testing kits—toward a more consumer-centric system.

“The question is: ‘How do we transform our health care system?’ It’s about doing everything possible [for patients] in the home, the rest in the community, and bringing them in if they really need it. And sometimes they do,” Wohlgemuth said. “We need to be thinking differently about where people are going to engage with the health care services they need.” 

Christopher Schoen, a former University student and founder and COO of the Schoen Clinic in Germany, discussed the new MindDoc app, which provides some 250 hours daily of mental health services to patients.

“Germany has enacted a law that allows for this and other [health care service] apps to be included within a subscription that allows patients to get this kind of care, and these laws are going to become more standard practice,” he said.

Eugenio Minvielle, founder and president of Innit, discussed his firm’s new platform that helps patients make better decisions about their food choices.

“Technology can help make food a proactive actor in all our decisions. We’re helping people to think of food as a pillar to health and wellness—not just an afterthought—and so we’re empowering them with real-time information to help them make better decisions,” Minvielle explained. “The platform is helping to create an ecosystem that provides for better diagnosis through a personalized food experience.”

Kelly Jo Golson, chief brand and consumer experience officer for Advocate Aurora Health, noted that the emergence of these and other technologies had exposed the inequities to access that Frenk had mentioned.

“The inequalities are staggering, and we can’t afford not to address them,” Golson said. “We’ll all have to lean into technology to reimagine the delivery of services. We have to be held accountable for all to have access. We can’t just hand out devices. We all have a role to play with consumers and patients to help narrow that gap.”

Alex Azar, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and an adjunct professor of business and senior executive-in-residence with the Miami Herbert Business School since last fall, discussed the political landscape of health care in the final panel of the day moderated by Karoline Mortensen, associate professor and associate dean of business programs.

The former health secretary shared his experience in “Operation Warp Speed,” public-private partnership to develop the vaccines to fight the virus, as well as his insights on challenges facing the health care system—catastrophic costs, transparency, and innovative developments.  

He recounted his efforts to advance legislation through the “Tri-Agency Rule”—the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury (tri-agencies)— requiring full transparency for health care costs that include list price, the negotiated discount by plan, and the cash pay amount.

Steven Ullmann, director of the business school’s Center for Health Management and Policy and the architect of the annual conference, indicated the success of the hybrid effort and said planning and support for the conference next year were already in place.