Reflections from Healthcare's Most Influential "Water Cooler"

Abhinav Shashank
Thu 20 Jan 2022
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The 40th Annual J.P. Morgan Conference

I attended, and presented at, the 40th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference last week, along with a few other conferences. And as you might expect, every health system, payer, and life sciences CEO spoke about what their top challenges were in 2021 and priorities going into 2022. The experience wasn’t unlike standing around a virtual water cooler, comparing notes over the top industry issues and initiatives, and sharing advice. In the end, I can boil these conversations down to four priorities that everyone was talking about.

Priority #1: COVID’s Staffing Challenge

The first one came across loud and clear in all of the discussions and presentations, and shouldn’t be a surprise: The impact of COVID on staffing. The big question literally every presenter asked was, to paraphrase, “how can we use data and technology to reduce fatigue for our caregivers?” People literally started and ended their presentations with that.

While everyone is fatigued, providers especially are feeling the pain. There are historic personnel challenges, where organizations large and small have seen providers and nurses conducting walkouts, going on strike, or simply quitting their jobs over COVID burnout and related issues. There have been at least 30 walkouts and strikes in 2021, and record numbers of healthcare workers simply gave up and quit last year—which only adds pressure on those who remain.

We’ve been watching this play out, and when Omicron hit, we made a significant investment in a new solution to help answer that question. We launched the Public Health Command Center the same week as the J.P. Morgan conference to help healthcare organizations quickly unify systems, data, and care operations; optimize resources; manage populations; and follow connected patient journeys. And we made it free for 90 days, so healthcare organizations can assess its impact with zero risk. Data-driven insights and actions at scale, with real-time analytics dashboards, can take a lot of the pressure off overworked healthcare heroes on the front line.

Priority #2: Value-Based Care Transformation

This was the third year that I attended the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. And I can tell you with absolute clarity that there has never been the intensity of focus and commitment on value-based care than there was at this year’s conference. It was astonishing.

Every CEO, from payers to providers and even life sciences companies, were talking about how they can use value-based care and alternative payment models to drive transformation across their entire organization.

How do we think purely in terms of health outcomes and not healthcare transactions in general? What does taking care of a patient look like in the continuity of care model, rather than taking care of the patient as a transaction? How do we shift to treating patients and members as consumers, where we have a holistic (and documented!) care relationship with them over a lifetime? How do we thrive where payers, the government, employers—everyone involved with reimbursement—is going to pay us based on delivering the right care at the right time at the right cost, and measurably improving the health of our populations?

Those were the questions everyone from outpatient settings to inpatient setting systems were asking, as they think about how to solve for these value-based care mechanisms. They’re thinking about what does the surgery department look like? What does the oncology department look like? How do I use data and technology to be able to facilitate value-based care, measure and improve outcomes, and do that on a perpetual basis?

Based on what I heard at the conference, it’s clear that every part of the system is going to want to transform—and when I say health system, it's not just the provider systems, but payers, life sciences companies—all of these organizations will want to see transformation around how they’re operating, because the old operating model of care delivery is not working now and won’t magically start working in the future.

We’re on the cusp of a massive transformational event. We recently collected some market research data, based on interviews with 75 C-suite and other healthcare decision makers, that validates the value-based care buzz I heard at J.P. Morgan in a striking way. We’ll be sharing that data in the coming weeks, as our research partner, Morning Consult, puts the finishing touches on their report.

But here’s a preview: 67% of healthcare leaders surveyed said their organizations will be reimbursed via alternative payment models or using fully population-based payment by 2025. Another 32% said they’ll be linking quality and/or value on a fee-for-service chassis by 2025. A mere 1% said they’ll still be using fee-for-service with no links to quality or value. Fee for service? Put a fork in it.

Priority #3: Going Digital

The third theme I heard loud and clear from participating CEOs is that they have started thinking about “digital as digital” and not as “IT.” This is a sea change for healthcare, and would align healthcare with literally every other industry (finally) in how it looks at and acts on digital transformation.

Consumers don’t think of banking and digital banking as separate activities. It’s just banking. They don’t treat a phone call or a Zoom call or a Facetime call as separate activities. They’re just calls. And they don’t treat the experience of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store versus a retailer’s website or app as separate activities. It’s just shopping.

Consumers turn to whatever channel is optimal—physical, telephone, website, smartphone, tablet, Alexa, and who knows what else—to get the service or product they want or, in the case of healthcare, need. That happened because a wholesale digital transformation effort was taken up by most of the banking, retail, and communications industries aggressively over the past 20 years.

We’re finally seeing that reflected in consumer interactions with the healthcare industry today— accelerated, in a big and unexpected way, by the pandemic. There’s no turning back. Everyone, throughout the conference, was talking about the fact that digital transformation is a big agenda for them this year.

What was interesting is that conversation was not limited to CEOs and CIOs. Literally everyone was talking about digital transformation. Questions I heard being asked: How do we think about providing care digitally? What does hospital-at-home look like for us? What does engaging in an ecosystem look like for us? How do we build more digital products faster? How do we break the EHR silo to drive more innovation within our organization?

We see this qualitatively in the soon-to-be released market research from Morning Consult that I referenced earlier. The majority of healthcare organizations (43%) aspire to achieve digital transformation within the next three years, 21% in the next two years, and 18% in the next 4-5 years. If that’s not a mega-trend, what is? Only 5% of respondents said they have no plans to invest in digital transformation. (We defined digital transformation as using digital technologies to create or modify existing business processes to meet evolving business, market, and customer requirements.)

It was gratifying to see the strong alignment between what our market research is revealing and the conversational evidence that was overwhelming at J.P. Morgan. The forces of value-based care transformation and digital transformation are aligning, if not converging, and, as attributed to Aristotle, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.

Priority #4: Health Equity Now

COVID-19 exposed the raw, painful truth about health equity in America. There’s no denying that there are health equity challenges across the country. CEOs at the conference continually pointed to how care was delivered and who got sick, and how the outcomes were dramatically different based on the economic and social strata in general.

That topic came to the forefront repeatedly, and the message I heard was that everyone, from Medicare to Medicaid to large health systems to leadership—everyone wants to invest in health equity in meaningful ways. And that investment starts with data. Data is going to be the big equalizer.

To move the needle on health equity, health systems need information that their EHRs and other core systems simply can’t give them. They need information in a unified patient record that documents the patient’s economic, living, and working conditions; education, income, neighborhood characteristics, social inclusion—not just their medical care and claims.

For example, if a patient lives in a so-called “food desert”— an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food—their doctor needs to know this when the patient arrives for a visit. Then the health system could act, perhaps by giving them a prescription for a better diet, and coupons that make healthier food more affordable to support that better diet.

Accurate third-party SDoH data integrated into the patient’s record is the path to enabling physicians to understand the socioeconomic elements that can help drive meaningful changes in care delivery. Conference attendees were recognizing that they can, and must, change the course of healthcare in meaningful ways by making health equity a core plank of whole-person care—and that unifying patient data beyond the health system’s four walls holds the key.

A Common Thread

When you consider these “meta-trends” collectively and in their totality, every one of the top four priorities most-talked-about by CEOs and others at the J.P. Morgan conference would benefit from a cloud data platform to realize its full potential.

COVID-19 pushed the industry towards virtual care, while also to the brink, raising the bar on what health systems need to do to retain staff and prevent burnout. Value-based care, digital transformation, and health equity all demand pervasive connectivity, interoperability, access to data across systems and settings (including third-party data), and a unified patient record that is the lynchpin to achieving whole-person care.

Point solutions won’t get us there. EHRs won’t get us there. But a cloud data platform can, by giving health systems, life sciences, health plans, and digital startups the accelerated transformation capabilities and intrinsic access to quality data from both inside and outside of their organizations—something only a cloud data platform built specifically to support healthcare organizations can provide.

Strategically, industry CEOs are ready to take the giant steps forward they need towards broad connectivity, interoperability, and unified patient data to drive value-based, digitally savvy, patient-centric care. And a cloud data platform can bring those strategies to life.


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Abhinav Shashank
Reflections from Healthcare's Most Influential "Water Cooler"

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