Navigating Healthcare Innovation: Insights from the Health Management Academy

By Ryan Bengtson, President & COO

I recently attended a three-day collaborative hosted by the Health Management Academy focused on trends and advancements in consumer-centric care. Even 3+ years after the pandemic, it is still remarkably invigorating to attend these types of in-person events, and to see the energy and passion that so many individuals are putting in to improving the quality, economics, and experience of the US healthcare system. Reflecting on those few days, there are a handful of takeaways I want to highlight.

Innovation doesn’t have to be grand

During one session of the conference, we split into small groups and were asked to share a particular innovation that each of us was currently working on, along with the challenges and successes. For most, the initial response was to try to think of the biggest project that would impact the most people. However, we quickly realized that we are all working on dozens of improvement projects that may be smaller in nature but are no less innovative, and in many cases, no less challenging. Innovation brings change, and as we all know, change is hard. There is tremendous opportunity to improve the experience of healthcare, and while there will be truly disruptive, large-scale innovations, a series of smaller ideas that are well executed are generating significant improvements in the less ‘sexy’ areas of healthcare like ED access and throughput, physician referrals, and self-pay collections.

Renewed focus on consumerism

This observation may be influenced by the fact this was a consumer-oriented conference, but it is clear that most of the leading health systems have a renewed focus on consumerism. Much of this work started several years ago and was accelerated out of necessity during the pandemic. However, that emphasis soon diminished as margin improvement, clinical staffing, and physician burnout climbed to the top of the priority list in the aftermath of Covid-19. It now seems that the pendulum is coming back to consumerism. I feel this not only through what I heard at the conference, but also in the work Panda Health is doing on behalf of our community of health systems members. It is one of several priorities, as organizations are still working to stabilize their workforce and their finances, but it is clearly moving back up the list.

Health systems doing more product development

There continues to be a substantial amount of product development work taking place within the health systems. When asked why they build, the primary response from the health system leaders was that they cannot find the solutions they need in the market. When asked why they buy, it was primarily because they do not have the capacity, time, or resources to build. This is a topic that warrants much further discussion, but here is my executive summary. On one hand, I fully appreciate that the health systems have the best understanding of their issues, have a growing sense of concern and even distrust in procuring 3rd party solutions, and are looking for commercialization opportunities to generate alternate revenue streams. On the other hand, this is generally not a core expertise of the health systems, they often design solutions specific to their individual health system needs that are ultimately not commercially viable, and they can end up adding to the noise and confusion that exists in the digital health market.  To be sure, some health system development shops are better than others and there are many notable examples of successful in-house development, but organizations don’t tend to talk much about their failures.

Gen AI in practice

AI has been the most hyped technological advancement of the last couple of years, and you can’t attend a health tech conference or read an article without it being mentioned.  So, when I saw an AI presentation on the agenda at this conference, I for sure did a mental eye-roll and may or may not have done a physical eye-roll, as well. Yet, it ended up being one of the best sessions of the conference because it wasn’t about a hypothetical future AI capability, but rather was a very practical and real application of generative AI in use today. I won’t be able to do it justice here, but Dr. Lee Schwamm and Justin Fansler from Yale New Haven Health and Yale School of Medicine shared how they’re delivering an elevated online patient experience by leveraging generative AI to standardize clinical definitions, generate content related to conditions, treatments, and procedures, provide near real-time maintenance of provider profiles, and support advance provider match and online scheduling capabilities.  While there will certainly be revolutionary applications of this AI technology in healthcare, questions around regulatory requirements, reimbursement, and clinical efficacy will require time to answer. In the meantime, it is refreshing to see how it can be used today to move healthcare forward.

My thanks to the Health Management Academy and all of the health system executives in attendance for creating a forum that allows for this level of collaboration and transparency. It’s always encouraging to be reminded of how many very intelligent and very motivated people are working hard to make healthcare better for all of us.