“Health Connect South 2018” Conference Concludes: Technology - The Link to the Future of Health Care
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018
Adhering to the theme—“A Connected Future”—keynote speakers and panelists at the “Health Connect South (HCS) 2018” conference concluded that technology is undoubtedly the missing link to the future of health care.
Russ Lipari, CEO of HCS, welcomed nearly 500 top health leaders in the Southeast to The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta recently, and exhorted them to make meaningful networking connections then and there. Similarly, Lipari and his staff strategically designed an agenda with pertinent technology-focused topics to run a parallel path of connectivity to one another.
THE FUTURE HAS ARRIVED
“Medical futurist,” Rubin Pillay, PhD, M.D., MBA – Assistant Dean and Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, began with a presentation of improbable medical anecdotes reminiscent of a “Star Trek” episode. For example, he spoke of patients he called “prosumers,” performing self-diagnostic electrocardiograms and eye exams and having the ability to subsequently write their own eyeglass prescription; 3D printers able to create corneas; a non-fictional “tricorder” like the one used on television by Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk that can actually diagnose 13 different medical conditions; the capability of curing babies’ illnesses before birth; even robotics that can allow a paraplegic to walk again. While seemingly unbelievable, each of these futuristic medical breakthroughs, Dr. Pillay attests, is, or will be by year-end, in use in various parts of the world.
What’s needed, moreover, to complement these new patient data resources is the critical need to integrate such health information. Dr. Thomas Bat, CEO and Medical Director, North Atlanta Primary Care, gave examples of missing data critical to the care of his patients’ histories due to their exams, treatments, and prescriptions by other physicians, hospitals, and clinics. His fellow panelist, Laura McCrary, EdD, and Sr. Vice-President, KaMMCO Health Solutions, detailed how Kansas utilizes a system—designed by doctors, not the state—that integrates all such electronic health record data, allowing a caregiver to connect the dots with a complete, cross-functional medical history for each patient.
Later in the day’s program, however, experts such as Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and Dean of Morehouse School of Medicine, and Susan Dentzer, President and CEO, Network for Excellence in Health, lamented that delivery of all of this new medical technology is not widely available. Paraphrasing management consultant Peter Drucker, Dentzer commented, “The future has arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed.”
She proceeded, nonetheless, to detail emerging situations where successful efforts have been made in attempting to bring health care technology into the home instead of at the hospital, with comparable outcomes, while bending the cost curve by up to twenty percent. In another instance, the University of Virginia held a health fair for a rural area of the state during which diagnoses of residents and tele-health connections and made on-site between physicians and those at the school resulted in savings of potentially 17 million miles of round-trip driving to offices and hospitals. Ms. Dentzer termed such an inconvenient, costly, alternative driving option as an “incongruity,” since the field of medicine has not been configured around people and their needs. Likewise, Dr. Harris, inspired as she was by television’s Dr. Marcus Welby, said, for her, “The patient is always first.”
Another key initiative discussed was in the area of genomics and how data collected through technological means will drive health care.
Dr. Rice went on to explain that in rural Georgia, efforts are underway to close the health care disparities gap in the state. “Data is going to drive medicine, particularly, genomics,” she said. Partnerships with companies like Color Genomics will help to democratize the opportunity to achieve health equity and dramatically lower costs through employers who can offer genomics as a win-win benefit, since 1% of employees drive 30% of claims. By learning a person’s ancestral background through genome history a doctor can improve diagnoses and determine what type of medication might be optimal. A prime area where data achieved through genomics can be a lifesaver is with African-American women, who have a lesser rate of incidence of breast cancer, but a higher death rate.
Another example of closing the health care disparities available to the broader population is happening at the National Institute of Health (NIH), which recently implemented a new initiative of clinical trials with regard to sickle cell anemia, in order to discover a modified gene to cure the disease.
IBM’s Watson computer efforts suggest artificial intelligence (AI) has better capabilities to detect skin cancer than a dermatologist, allowing patients to simply take pictures of their skin and forward the data to their doctor, rather than have to wait weeks for an appointment. AI technology may also provide the ability to some day even replace the need for a radiologist.
As Dr. Pillay summed it, as patients become better informed, and as the number of providers per person declines, they have the ability to become “prosumers” and will be able to detect, diagnose, and even provide self-care in some instances.
CULTIVATING INNOVATION IN HEALTH INVESTMENTS
“Health care investments today represent 18% of Gross Domestic Product versus 13% in the year 2000, and spending is up 5½% over last year,” noted L.A. Galyon, Managing Director of Brentwood Capital and panel moderator.
Panelists from Goldman Sachs, Bright Edge Venture Fund (American Cancer Society), Hatteras Venture Partners, and Avanos Medical shared their thoughts on strategies and amounts of capital spending in medical technology investments, as well as their criteria for selection. For example, does the innovator company have a good team? Does a record of success exist? Is their pitch relevant to their thesis? Are the opportunities in high quality markets? What’s the value of private equity firms to conversion? While Goldman Sachs may invest as high as in the billions of dollars, the others seek opportunities in the $3-15 million range, and may do so in incremental amounts as research progresses.
Diagnostic computer devices, therapeutics, bioelectronics and the world of pain are key areas of investment, according to Bob Crutchfield, Managing Director of Bright Edge. Christy Shaffer, PhD and Partner at Hatteras, said she is excited that “the FDA is approving new drugs and is willing to work with investors. They are interested in AI.” Shyam Parekh, PhD, and Director of Strategy and Development for Avanos added that the FDA offers to guide investors and are less combative than in the past.
THE OPIOID CRISIS – REASON FOR OPTIMISM
A panel composed of speakers from AMA, CDC, and RTI (an independent, non-profit health institute) updated the status of this critical epidemic, and even offered some indications of signs of success. Dr. Harris noted that opioid overdose is the leading cause of death for people under the age of fifty, and that Georgia, Florida and Alabama outpaced the national rate. The AMA has a task force to demonstrate its leadership role in addressing this crisis.
However, no one solution will conquer it. Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are key, and as referenced above, real time information is needed to outsmart abusers using multiple prescriptions. Physician educational programs about pain management, substance abuse disorder, and opioid prescribing are all recommended. Treatment for addiction, safe storage disposal, and the use of Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, also play key roles in the reversal of the trend. Some of the social stigma against abusers such as character flaws or having low moral standards has been erased. Researchers are now finding that opioid use is a brain disease somewhat akin to depression, according to Jon Zibbell, PhD, Senior Public Health Analyst, Behavioral and Urban Health Program, RTI
Some other positive news indicates that doctors have judiciously decreased the number of opioid prescriptions by 22% from 2013-2017. Furthermore, a program called “Project Echo,” is using telemed for treatment. Kaiser Permanente and the University of Chicago have a program whereby physicians compare their levels of prescriptions versus their peers. While national and federal organizations can assure funding and regulatory framework, the best solutions are local, per Dr. Harris, “Local public health, local law enforcement, local school systems working together to address this epidemic with hospitals and physicians.”
ABOUT HEALTH CONNECT SOUTH (HCS)
Health Connect South is a non-profit serving the health community as a valuable platform for regional health collaborations, ensuring participation from the highest levels and broadest cross sections of executives, decision makers, innovators, and the next generation of health leaders.
Health Connect South’s annual event is one of the largest face-to-face meetings in the Southeast. Agenda topics covered are broad in order to create interdisciplinary partnerships, but also specific to be able to tackle current challenges in health. This is the platform for health leaders to come to talk and hear about “the future” in health, the current challenges, and collaborative solutions. Russ Lipari, CEO of HCS, states, “The mission of Health Connect South is to seek to define and advance the Southeast’s role in the future of health, serving as a gateway between industry silos, and facilitating unique and meaningful collaborative partnerships.”