As the Healthcare Industry Turns

Tiecon I’m sure I’m not alone in my opinion that most healthcare conferences follow the “soap opera” model. Much like story lines in “Guiding Light” or “As the World Turns,” you may have attended a health conference in 2001 and then another in 2007 – and you find yourself in the middle of the same conversation. While some of this remained true at the recent TiECON event in Boston, it was also refreshing to hear that there’s finally industry movement along a few fronts.

Yes, the experts were still saying things like, “medical devices are hot,” and “healthcare costs are rising.” But, some of the issues that had only been talked about conceptually in the past are actually being implemented, if even on a small scale, today. EDC/paperless trials are finally being conducted on an enterprise-wide scale, most health systems have either already implemented or are considering EHR and everyone across the health and life sciences chain is taking the patient/consumer into account as they try to enhance their business models.

For example, panelists discussed the impact of consumers on health coverage. One of the panelists pointed out that he views the “right” scenario looking something like an Expedia experience – where patients/consumers can log onto the Web to find the right doc and the right hospital for the specific procedure they need. They can look further into the hospital’s and physician’s quality track records and can determine which health plans cover which treatments and where. While the experts think a fully-executed version of this model is about 10 years off, Thomas Summer, CEO of MassMEDIC described what Massachusetts is currently doing along these lines through NEHEN.

Another very compelling discussion centered around the escalating cost and ever-ailing health coverage system in the U.S. Two main themes prevailed: Are we focused on the right patient groups? And, can we finally admit that other countries may be doing things a little better than we are?

One of the panelists in the “Competition and Consumerism” track made the point that even though, in theory, many of the patient-directed programs that numerous employers and payers are offering (things like incentives for working out, incentives for staying healthy), healthcare costs will still continue to rise. Why? Because, “…those programs are targeted at the insured, but they do not address the 45-50 million uninsured in the country – the very group that drives the high costs of healthcare coverage.”
In terms of the U.S. vs Europe and other countries, panelists agreed that we continue to pay more and get less. The panel continued by describing the health systems in Switzerland and Australia, which the experts agreed were doing some things very right.
While most of these arguments and discussions were good, I didn’t walk away with a clear understanding that anyone had the answers. The health/life sciences industry is begging for thought leaders to help clear up all this confusion. Perhaps I’ll attend a conference in 2020 to hear some of the solutions?