With the COVID-19 pandemic serving as a catalyst, 2020 healthcare innovation and action has accelerated at a pace many believe would otherwise take years. This acceleration has compelled patients, caregivers, doctors, insurers and everyone in between to focus on a handful of glaring care-based issues, while turning to digital as a solution. Corporate Insight recently attended the virtual HLTH conference and heard from a handful of leaders in healthcare, tech, government and retail. Four major themes arose in almost every session:

  1. Healthcare biases stem from inequality and social determinants

One silver lining of COVID-19 is that it has triggered an overdue reckoning of racial inequality. We heard from Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS; Dr. Laurie Glimcher, president and CEO of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Frans van Houten, CEO of Philips. They all talked about how the whole healthcare system has to agree to create the latest treatments for all patients as well as the need to address systemic injustices.

As developers and clinicians become aware of the human-informed bias, technology presents itself as a major equalizer.

Technology such as machine learning, cloud computing and telehealth provide opportunities to democratize health and connect doctors and patients through interoperable data that considers people of every creed and color. Currently, the bias in healthcare may be attributed in part to a self-perpetuating model that takes non-diverse data and produces solutions for a non-diverse population. However, as developers and clinicians become aware of the human-informed bias, technology presents itself as a major equalizer.

Annelle Primm, MD, senior medical director of The Steve Fund, focused on how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected young people of color through economic hardship and adverse health rates. Young people of color experience higher levels of isolation and are less likely to seek help, which ultimately can affect one’s health outcomes. Workplaces can help combat this through internal change by introducing a culture of belonging. Several other sessions urged organizations to focus on social determinants of health when developing anything from technology solutions to care models. When creating equality in care, speakers encouraged health systems to bring in clinicians who look more like the people they are servicing.

  1. Mental and behavioral health is impacted by the pandemic on every level

With families in isolation, kids in remote school classes, political and social discord, substance addiction and abuse, and economic distress, the events of 2020 have revealed glaring inequities in terms of access to mental health solutions. Mental health is the deadly undertow of COVID-19 that cannot be seen, stated by Karen S. Lynch, president of Aetna and CVS Health. Americans are experiencing stress at an unprecedented level, where one in five adults experience a mental health disorder every year, and one in two in their lifetime. Stress and mental health issues also impact the workplace and are the number one cause of productivity loss. One session covered addressing diversity in mental healthcare, with Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project; Cynthia Germanotta, president and co-founder of Born This Way Foundation; and Patrick Kennedy, former United States representative. The session discussed that younger populations and LGBTQ+ young people have experienced an excessive level of mental health issues. One in four young adults contemplated suicide over a 30-day period in June, and 40% of LGTBQ+ people seriously considered suicide.

HLTH VRTL 2020 Addressing Diversity in Mental Healthcare Discussion

Historically, mental and behavioral health solutions have suffered from underinvestment, but recent developments in digital technologies offer opportunities in addressing accessibility, stigma, cost and education. And while technology can cause harm (e.g., cyber bullying), it can also help people by serving as a lifeline to peer access as a safe space and social network. Although these tools may never possess empathy, they can be used in collaboration with humans to extend care. The group also discussed the profound need for policy to change around mental health services, particularly in pricing structures that should enable people to receive care for the same coverage as routine medical services.

  1. Shifting consumer expectations must be met by 2020 healthcare innovation and beyond

Historically, strong payer and provider voices have governed the direction of healthcare, as discussed by Mario Schlosser, CEO of Oscar, and Roy Schoenberg, president and CEO of Amwell. Since the start of the Affordable Care Act, we began to see the arrival of the patient voice in healthcare. Patient expectations developed, and telehealth technology now allows us to hear voices from people for the first time.

HLTH VRTL 2020 The Engaged Patient as Consumer: Post-COVID Innovation in Health & Care Discussion

In his session, Neil Gomes, senior vice president of Digital and Human Experiences at CommonSpirit Heath, outlined several ways that expectations are shifting, starting with patients themselves wanting more frequent connections with health systems. Patients expect these connections to be bi-directional and want moments where the clinician reaches out serendipitously, claims Gomes. While this may cause a difficult-to-manage clinical and technological overload, the upside is better health. To handle this load, Gomes suggests simplifying the process for clinicians and care providers by creating an ecosystem of community care and support networks around the patient. The clear evolution of care is viewing patients as consumers where patients want ad-hoc services, speed, on-the-go engagement and personalized experiences specific to their care continuum. Gomes described three new behaviors that have emerged as patient preferences:

  • Convenience over cost
  • Speed over loyalty
  • Experience over relationship
  1. Developing virtual care models suggest a hybrid physical-digital future

Lastly, almost every session touched on telehealth and virtual care solutions. Throughout the conference, several speakers discussed how the future of care will be a blend between virtual and in-person services. For example, future cancer patients will be cared for in-person by a local provider and virtually by a national leader in the space. Speakers urged that telehealth services and interactions should be intentional. During his conversation, Bruce Broussard, president and CEO of Humana, claimed that in-person interactions have created a false sense of effectiveness, while telehealth interactions have in fact been a lot more intentional and therefore have been more effective in providing better outcomes.

In her session, Carina Edwards, CEO of Quil, presented another effective outcome of virtual care by unveiling a new telehealth solution for caregivers. Through the partnership between Comcast and Independence Blue Cross, the consumer solution will allow caregivers to organize and manage care through ambient, non-intrusive sensors. Virtual care solutions, such as Quil, not only enable caregivers and providers to observe an individual in their home but also provide people independence, which can allow them to age comfortably and feel safe at home.

Regulation should move telehealth in the same direction as in-person care and for less money.

While many speakers agree that telehealth will never go backwards, many expressed issues with regulations and requirements around face-to-face visits. Concerns surrounded policy that limits the ability for patients to receive care virtually. Several speakers suggest that regulation should move telehealth in the same direction as in-person care and for less money. For example, consolidation in the telehealth industry will offer an easier way for employers and payers to go to one place when choosing services. Speakers also urged regulators to create better fee schedules for telehealth services.

HLTH VRTL 2020 More Time with Patients = Improved Outcomes Discussion

As digital experiences become more personalized, equitable, on-demand and virtual, we’ll continue to see 2020 healthcare innovation and beyond. Corporate Insight continues to monitor the way healthcare digital experiences evolve to benefit their patients and members. For further insights about changes to the healthcare space, read our continuing coverage on our company blog.