“You hear people say ‘here’s the problem with healthcare…’ there’s no one problem. No one in this room would say we have a great healthcare system here in the US, because we don’t.”
With that powerful statement, Allina Health | Aetna CEO Tom Lindquist ensured that the first session after lunch at MedCity INVEST Digital Health wouldn’t be a sleepy one. The crowd assembled at the Depot was engaged throughout the day as leaders from strategic investors, large health systems, and leading digital health companies, were joined by a class of digital health startups looking to prove Fairview CEO James Hereford right when he said in his morning keynote “The sheer economics of healthcare today dictate disruption…so it’s on us as a healthcare industry to disrupt ourselves.”
Lindquist was far from the only speaker take the modern healthcare apparatus to task. Jodi Hubler, Lemhi Ventures managing director, said the field “has Star Trek technology operating on a Flintstones chassis.” Yet for deep concerns about its present, and cautions about the emergence of Apple, Amazon, and Wal-Mart as competitors, the overall tone to the conference was quite hopeful thanks in large part to a strong class of pitching startups that weren’t content to simply identify healthcare’s flaws: They were here to fix them.
10 startups presented to a panel of VCs that included investors from Capita3, 7wire, NEA, and Optum Ventures with solutions that improved patient experience both in traditional healthcare settings and at home, drove costs out of an overburdened system, and helped providers get the right information at the right time so they can focus on the patient’s needs. On the strength of their AI-backed voice technology used to interact with chronic care patients, Care Angel took home Pitch Perfect title, joining past winners Carrot Health and Moving Analytics.
AI was a major topic of discussion as many speakers were excited about the potential to improve accuracy in fields like radiology and act as a force multiplier for doctors and nurses. There was considerable talk as well about the ability of AI to help bridge the gap between care in a traditional brick and mortar facility and home-based care, which was touted as not only desirable, but inevitable as more Baby Boomers age in place.
Echoing a common refrain from the Medical Alley Innovation Summit, many of the presenters from established companies cautioned startups that they had steeper paths ahead of them than their predecessors faced. Hereford told the audience that there was ample appetite for new technology in healthcare, but that anything added now has to contribute to simplification, adding to complexity and cost is nonstarter. Revel Health’s CEO Jeff Fritz spoke to the challenge of breaking into a field increasingly broken into a field increasingly dominated by massive monoliths, but Melissa Kjolsing, CEO of Recovree pointed out that the emergence of giants like Best Buy in healthcare were proof that the problems startups set out to solve were worth the time and work it took to solve them.
There are plenty of places to be pollyanna about healthcare’s present, but MedCity INVEST Digital Health wasn’t one of them. Instead, it was an encouraging gathering of the people best able to affect healthcare’s future with one takeaway above all others: Healthcare is going to get better, because we will drive the changes necessary to make it so.