In the three years since ZS’s last in-person Impact Summit in 2019, healthcare as we know it experienced dramatic changes. The popularity and uptake of telehealth services skyrocketed, and global healthcare systems joined forces with manufacturers to develop and distribute vaccines on an unprecedented scale.
“We’ve all experienced technological leaps, impossible things made possible—things we never thought we’d see in 10 or 15 years as far as technology is concerned. But what has all that done? We’ve created more green shoots, but are they working together?” asked ZS CEO Pratap Khedkar, in his opening remarks of ZS’s 2022 Impact Summits. “For this year’s theme we thought we’d focus, as a healthcare industry, on connecting healthcare.”
This year there were two Impact Summits, one in Boston and one, for the first time in the EU, in Basel, Switzerland. Both events challenged attendees to think about the question Khedkar posed: the technology exists to provide connected care, but are providers, health plans and life sciences companies ready to work together to provide it?
In keynote addresses and breakout sessions throughout the Summits, a variety of voices from within and outside of healthcare shared their perspectives on innovative partnerships that are making a difference in their communities. Major healthcare players from life sciences, medtech, health plans, providers and biotech companies discussed their successes in leveraging the power of data, science and technology to bring the promise of connected health to life. Under the umbrella of connected health, three key themes emerged from the keynotes and breakout sessions, including:
- The future of healthcare is here, it’s just unevenly distributed. While artificial intelligence (AI) can help accelerate clinical trials, and cell and gene therapies can cure rare diseases, roughly half of the world’s population lacks access to basic healthcare.
- The future of health is possible, but only if we bridge the disconnects. Connected healthcare depends on a foundation of technology that captures data, shares it and helps transform it into more informed decisions. But, as ZS learned from the healthcare providers and consumers we surveyed, technology carries its own risks. Seventy-one percent of U.S. primary care physicians and 70% of their European (U.K., Germany and Sweden) counterparts cite data overwhelm as a top barrier to connected health. (Source: Future of health research from ZS and The Harris Poll, July 2022).
- To achieve a future of healthcare that benefits more people, companies will need to collaborate and partner to create the necessary infrastructure. This will begin when they zero in on the problem, design solutions for real patients and pull in partners along the way.
As Khedkar noted in his opening session, “Your ZIP code has more to do with your health than your genetic code. We must work together to bridge the gaps that create healthcare disparities.” In keynote presentations and breakout sessions, speakers shared their innovative and inspiring approaches to tackling different elements of health equity.
In the breakout session “Connecting care with technology platforms,” Walgreens Health’s clinical trials officer, Ramita Tandon, discussed how her company is giving people who have traditionally been underrepresented in clinical trials the opportunity to participate at a physical Walgreens location, using consumer-friendly technology.
“Rather than putting the burden on the clinical trial participant to visit a healthcare system or an academic institution, we’re activating our locations to become clinical trial sites,” said Tandon. According to Walgreens, as of 2020, 78% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a Walgreens or Duane Reade store.
Tandon was joined by Mike Cantor, MD, chief medical officer of Uber Health, who discussed how Uber is using technology to address health disparities. Uber Health is working with providers to schedule rides for patients to and from treatments, even if they don’t have an Uber account. Uber Health is also focusing on prescription delivery for patients who are homebound or lack access to reliable transportation.
Both Tandon and Cantor noted that the first step to improving health disparities is understanding which social drivers of health affect a community. For example, Tandon pointed out that individuals with low incomes often have restrictive data plans on their mobile phones, which makes it difficult to access telehealth, wearables and health-related apps. Developing solutions that solve for factors like this is something that providers, regulators and communities can address together.
While it’s assumed technology can help deliver a more convenient healthcare experience, Cantor noted the importance of clear regulatory frameworks.
“If a provider isn’t sure they will be reimbursed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for telehealth services, for example, why would they invest in the technology?” Cantor said.
Equity isn’t just a U.S. issue. As ZS's Bazgha Qutab, principal, and April Lewis, associate principal, noted in their session “Let’s redesign human-centric trials,” in Basel, human-centric trials are a catalyst to health equity. They stressed the importance of amplifying patient voices so communities feel empowered to be a part of trial design.
While problems like health disparities can feel immense, keynote speaker Mick Ebeling, founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, shared how his company seeks to solve “absurdly” difficult challenges, including bringing health-related technologies to those without ready access.
One of Not Impossible’s first and most well-known success stories was Project Daniel, an initiative in which Ebeling and his team were inspired to help a Sudanese teenager named Daniel who lost both his arms when a bomb was dropped on his village. Not Impossible first determined that a 3D printer could be used to create prosthetic arms, but then they had to plan a high-stakes mission to take a 3D printer to Daniel’s village. The team succeeded on both counts and Daniel was able to feed himself with his new arms for the first time in two years. Not Impossible’s technology has since helped others in Daniel’s community access affordable prosthetic limbs.
Ebeling said Project Daniel has inspired him and his team to pursue other challenges that seem insurmountable.
“Everything possible today was impossible first,” Ebeling said. “Something may be impossible at this moment, for this decade and even for our lifetimes. But it’s not going to be impossible forever.”
The healthcare ecosystem has made tremendous progress in advancing the promise of connected healthcare. Interoperability standards are making it easier for patients to share their data with their providers, and advancements like continuous glucose monitoring are empowering patients to manage their conditions. However, too many people “avoid interacting with the healthcare system at all costs” due to poor experiences, noted Peter Manoogian, a ZS principal, during the panel discussion “Overcoming what’s stalling the future of health.”
That discussion, moderated by Khedkar, brought together leaders from ZS’s life sciences, medtech, providers and health plans, and digital and connected health practices, to discuss how each of those sectors should work together to improve patient experiences.
Maria Whitman, global head of ZS’s pharmaceutical and biotech practice, noted that while patients are reporting healthier habits at rates higher than even before the pandemic, and have high degrees of confidence in wearables, another segment of healthcare consumers are much more disengaged.
“Forty-four percent of healthcare consumers in the U.S. say they’re not going to engage in healthcare until they’re sick and they have to. And in Europe that number jumps to 74%. Or you see that 29% don’t have a primary care doctor and 20% are now using their pharmacist as their first or second port of call,” Whitman noted. She added that pharma talks a lot about meeting patients where they are to engage with them and improve their health. “But any intervention we create—anything we do to create impact—is going to require more scale than we’ve been able to achieve as an industry.”
The cross-sector collaboration needed to improve patient experience is often hindered by companies that think about the patient journey in terms of “Here’s where we play.” This contributes to a fragmented care experience, said Brian Chapman, who leads ZS’s medtech practice. He’d like to see fewer companies proclaim they’re “disrupting healthcare,” which implies they’re acting alone.
“I think the notion that ‘I’m going to accomplish this myself and capture all the value’ will not work because it’s counterproductive long-term,” Chapman said.
These problems aren’t unique to the U.S. EU data regulations curtailed and significantly fragmented local healthcare data resources, according to participants in a breakout session in Basel, “Innovation at the intersection: Data in the EU.” According to a ZS survey, nearly half of respondents in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Sweden say they “feel like the healthcare system doesn’t care about me” and one in four say they avoid seeking medical care because “it’s a hassle.”
In the breakout session “ROI to POI™: The power and potential of patient outcome impact,” Hensley Evans, a principal at ZS, spoke with Bharat Tewarie, founder of Boston BioPharma Consultants and Christian Woeckel, head of transformation at General Medicines - Sanofi about pharmaceutical and medtech companies shifting their focus from products to patient outcomes. The panel made an argument for why companies should begin measuring for patient outcome impact (POI) if they are not already.
The conversation at the Boston event was moderated by ZS's Michael Shaw, principal, and Natasha Bonnot, associate principal, in Basel. Panelists discussed the six elements of POI that pharma and medtech companies could measure: disease prevention, clinical outcomes, reduction of disease burden, patient experience, improved patient access and reduction in clinical cost.
Evans said even if a company only measures one of these elements, it’s a great start to increasing their focus on patient outcomes.
“You can begin with measuring the data you have already,” Evans said. “Just start somewhere. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. And you don’t need to tell leadership that the company has to shift its business model. Instead, you can simply explore how your initiatives affect patients.”
In his opening session, Khedkar mentioned that he was struck by something that Umra Omar, a humanitarian activist from Kenya, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Omar said “We’ve already built the Ferrari of healthcare. What’s missing is the roads.” In our quest to leverage data, science and technology to improve health outcomes for all, it’s not the groundbreaking science where we fall short—it’s the creative connected pathways that make sure innovation finds its way to all people.
One example of this is the sheer volume of data generated by electronic medical records. One person’s oncology record alone could easily be a 200-page fax. As Whitman pointed out in a panel discussion, a patient portal may have a tab where users can upload their Fitbit data with a caution sign saying: “We may not actually look at this.” When physicians aren’t set up to engage with the data and information patients share with them, patients will further retreat into their own worlds. “That’s a great ecosystem problem we can solve together,” Whitman said.
To better understand how different teams can collaborate better to scale digital innovations like this, ZS's Jess Jarvis, principal, hosted a fireside chat with keynote speaker Linda Hill, Ph.D., a professor of business administration at Harvard University who has conducted extensive research about the connection between leadership and innovation and digital transformation. According to Hill, digital transformation is much more about people than technology.
“Those who succeed in digital transformation are really clear about the customer impact and customer centricity—that you’re solving the customer problem. What these leaders understand is that it’s not about me having a vision and saying to people ‘follow me to the future.’ It’s about the co-creation process. How do I get people to be willing and able to do the hard work of innovation? Because it’s really, really hard,” said Hill.
According to Hill’s research, most digital transformation efforts do not focus enough on the employee experience. This was the case with Pfizer, which Hill observed over a period that began before the pandemic, when the organization was undergoing a digital transformation to create an end-to-end, patient-first, digital and physical supply chain.
“It took them about two years to create the sense of community and psychological safety necessary for people in the organization to be open to these new tools,” Hill said. She added that the narratives companies create around why their transformation will ultimately help patients are critical.
Executives from three life sciences organizations echoed Hill’s ideas about company culture and employee experience during the session, “Let’s stop talking about becoming a digital organization (and just be digital),” where they discussed realizing digital’s value as an enabler of innovation.
Samer Ansari, head of data, digital and technology at Takeda Oncology, shared several ways his organization is structuring teams to scale innovation. While there are numerous factors to consider— including Agile processes, building cross-functional teams and removing siloes—Ansari emphasized that employees need a safe culture where they are encouraged to share ideas.
“No company has cracked this yet,” Ansari said. “Everybody has a different balance of structure and I think that’s good. We’re all learning together. We will make mistakes along the way, but as long as we have this environment where people feel secure and empowered to contribute, and success is celebrated, I think that’s the key. And at the end of the day it becomes people change management.”
Select sessions from the Impact Summits will be available on demand until Jan. 12, 2023.