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The Power & Perils of Unconventional Healthcare Partnerships

By LYGEIA RICCIARDI Lygeia Ricciardi

Last week’s announcement by Aetna and Apple of their Attain “experience” designed to enable Aetna members to achieve better health using the Apple watch was the latest in a series of partnerships vying to shake up healthcare from an unconventional angle. Others include Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JP Morgan’s collaboration to reshape health insurance, and Uber and Lyft’s numerous partnerships with Sutter, CareMore Health, and other healthcare systems to address transportation challenges for patients.

The Heat is On

Big changes in healthcare—including the shift to value-based care, the growing influence of consumerism, and a recognition that health outcomes depend on a wide array of everyday life factors ranging from foods to moods—are forcing the old guard in healthcare to recalibrate. Healthcare provider organizations alone engaged in a record-breaking 115 mergers and acquisitions in 2017, and continued apace until now, with deals already announced in 2019 between Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), among others.   

The most interesting partnerships, from my perspective, pair traditional healthcare players with non-traditional ones: it’s a recognition that something fundamental has to change, a point which hasn’t been lost on the 84% of the Fortune 50 companies that are already in healthcare, up from 76% in 2013. Everyone from tech giants to car manufacturers seems to gambling to some extent on healthcare. And why not, when the potential jackpot just keeps growing?

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Health Insights from the Founder of Paypal

At the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference a wide range of industries and creative artists come together to explore transformation through interactive technology. It’s not just healthcare people talking to healthcare people!

One of my favorite presentations this year was by Max Levchin, one of the founders of Paypal. He began by challenging the audience to focus on big problems, Problems That Matter. (I’m presuming the job a guy I shared an Uber with told me about—managing the social media profile of a dog—wouldn’t qualify.)

Levchin highlighted four key trends in business and technology—waves the audience could ride to catalyze meaningful change. Though I was consciously stepping outside of the healthcare track, nearly half of Levchin’s points explicitly referenced opportunities in health and healthcare, while it was easy to draw relevant lessons from the ones that didn’t. Big trends include:

1. Beneficence (AKA “doing good”). Increasingly businesses are providing value and benefit to consumers, even at the expense of higher profit margins. For example, Levchin most recently launched Affirm, a lending service focused on millennials, that specializes in transparency: clearly telling consumers how much they are being charged for financial services. While competitors typically obfuscate their fees (often unbeknownst to consumers), Affirm is in the business of doing well by doing good.

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Will the ONC provide a huge stimulus to Health 2.0 startups?

The federal government is on the cusp of leveling the playing field for healthtech startups. Health 2.0 events have shown an unprecedented wave of innovative healthtech startups have developed over the last few years. You can also see them at  demo day events that Blueprint Health, Healthbox, Rock Health and StartUp Health host. However, the health sector may be the single most challenging arena for startups.

I would argue nothing would result in population health improvement (while decreasing healthcare costs) more than having greater engagement by patients in the healthcare process. The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) could catalyze an unprecedented wave of innovation with a stroke of a pen by strong inclusion of patient engagement requirements in the Meaningful Use requirements.

Having high expectations for Patient Engagement will cause healthcare providers to rise to the occasion to solve this critical issue. It’s well documented that three-quarters of healthcare spend is on chronic disease and decisions that drive outcomes are made by individuals (aka “patients”). It’s long been said the most important member of the care team is the patient. Now is the time to transform that from a catchphrase to reality. The ONC can do that.

The biggest potential stimulus ever for healthtech startups

We have seen how Stage 1 Meaningful Use requirements (PDF) have spurred providers into action. By and large, that has meant an infusion of customers to EHR vendors. Legacy healthIT has had very, very little focus on the patient because financial incentives motivated the development of systems designed to get as big a bill out as fast as possible — i.e., there has been no incentive to involve the patient.

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