Disrupting the Status Quo: Four Takeaways from HLTH

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The following is a guest column by Sophie Okolo, MPH, a Senior Associate at the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging.

Resilience is the will and ability to try and try again. Healthcare needs resilience, and this was the fitting backdrop for the inaugural HLTH: The Future of Healthcare conference in Las Vegas. If you’re wondering, HLTH is a vowel-free variation on HEALTH, a brilliant move by conference organizers encouraging disruptive innovation across the healthcare ecosystem. (See more in our HLTH 2018 Q&A series.)

The event drew more than 3,500 investors, startups, providers, and policymakers from around the U.S. With more than a dozen tracks including Employers’ Perspectives, Genomics, and Health Data, there were many opportunities for learning and networking.

Transformation is not only about the latest technology innovation. It is also about creating a much-needed dialogue about the healthcare landscape and developing collaborative relationships with other organizations. If we hope to improve our already strapped healthcare system, every player—scientist, investor, executive, publisher, economist—has an important role.

Resilience in healthcare is possible. However, collaboration is what makes improving the health outcomes of populations around the world plausible. Here are some takeaways from HLTH 2018:

1. Your Zip Code Supersedes Your Genetic Code

Surprisingly, the code to unlocking good health lies in a person’s geographic location, level of education, income, ethnicity, job, and social connections within their community. These are collectively known as social determinants of health (SDoH), a relatively new term in healthcare which describes “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age,” as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO).

My colleague Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, kicked off the discussion by showing a graphic on health disparities in Las Vegas—capitalizing on the city being the event destination. Since SDoH is complex, Facebook’s head of healthcare and research partnerships, Dr. Freddy Abnousi, picked income, education, and race as the three most important factors that need to be addressed. With regards to care delivery, Margaret Laws of HopeLab suggested focusing on at least one SDoH, like food insecurity. Political and cultural change are imperative. “Ask when you vote if politicians care about variations in health among the population?” urged Robert Brook of Rand Corporation.

2. Healthcare’s Next Disruptors

We know that technology will shape the future of healthcare. However, knowing the players behind some of today’s innovations is also essential. Representatives from Uber, Google, and Innosight discussed changes that are impacting and disrupting the current healthcare landscape. For example, Uber launched Uber Health to remove transportation barriers in the healthcare industry. Since 3.6 million people miss their medical appointments because of transportation issues, Uber hopes to reduce the number but also “focus on proving efficacy including whether ridesharing improves patient outcomes,” according to Lauren Steingold of Uber Health. As Sri Madabushi of Google stated, “whether, through telemedicine and smart technology, the goal is to bring care to patients or patients to care.”

3. Supporting Physicians and Patients with Robotics

While concerns about artificial intelligence aren’t new, the emerging conversation at HLTH was about the need for robotics to help physicians, patients, and even caregivers. Today’s robots can analyze, assist, and perform tasks because of advances in robotics. Scott Huennekens of Verb Surgical said that complementing the skill set of medical professionals with robotics can help improve patient outcomes and increase access. Benjamin Le Cam of ZoraBots added that their robots can be approachable and are quickly accepted by staff and patients who want to use them for different tasks. Frank Menzler of Hocoma also downplayed fears about a robot takeover. The reality is that humans are behind some of these innovations, so it’s up to inventors to determine the direction. Mezler doesn’t see robots replacing humans in jobs but sees a shift in education and change in the job profile. This shows that there is “interest in adoption and new ways to do things to create a path to better health outcomes,” said Jack Peurach of Ekso Bionics.

4. Who Will Pay For Virtual Reality?

This session took a comprehensive approach to issues concerning virtual reality—from dementia care to addressing loneliness in older adults. Technologies are enabling patients to heal faster and find hope through immersive healing experiences. However, who will pay for this virtual reality? Matthew Stoudt of appliedVR recommended finding a clinical champion for VR technology within the hospital. Stoudt also mentioned the need to have economic value for VR, since payments may fall on patients, providers, and payers. Fran Ayalasomayajula of HP reinforced the idea that we need to go beyond efficacy and see the administrative value which includes clinical workflows, patient management, and more. As David Rhew of Samsung stated, “If you improve the functional status of an individual, then the individual can better take care of themselves and improve his or her care.” VR can give patients control over their health; hence, it is crucial to understand what it is. Howard Rose, CEO of Firsthand Technology, stressed that we need to broaden the understanding of what VR is—and what it is not.


Sophie Okolo, MPH, is a Senior Associate at the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging. Follow her on Twitter: @sophieokolo.

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