A few weeks ago, I fortunate to attend the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s 2020 Health Care Forum. I love attending events like this because they give me a glimpse into the realities our customers face every day. The panelists, a who’s who of healthcare leadership in Minnesota, opened up about the challenges and opportunities they see for healthcare in the coming year and provided much food for thought. Here are a few of the themes that stood out to me.

Rising healthcare costs continue to be a challenge

Almost the first words out of Dr. Hereford’s (CEO at Fairview Health Services) mouth was that we have an affordability crisis in healthcare. This was a theme that surfaced time and again - when talking about innovation, administrative challenges, and social determinants of health, to name a few.

The cost of an MRI, for example, is not just the cost of the MRI. It’s the cost of machine maintenance (which can vary wildly, as we learned), the MRI technician, the scheduler who manages appointments, the provider(s) who analyze the images, the electricity to run the machine, the EHR to hold the record and results...the list goes on.

Health systems are tasked, even more than patients, with navigating an intensely complex payment system while trying to deliver optimal patient outcomes at the lowest possible cost. It’s easy, from the outside, to oversimplify. Listening to executives from three health systems (plus one payer and one health startup) talk about cost of care, it’s clear that attaining this balance is like navigating between Scylla and Charybdis - maybe with a minotaur or pack of gorgons thrown in.

Collaboration - not finger-pointing - is the only way forward

In the cost of care discussion, payers are often painted as the bad guys. And, while cost of care reigned supreme as a theme, all of the panelists were quick to point out that finger-pointing wasn’t a viable solution to that problem.

The current payment system and administrative burden that comes with it is untenable - for everyone. Tom Lindquist, CEO of Allina Health | Aetna, the most prominent payer/provider partnership in MN, took the lead on this topic. He pointed out that throughout the industry, there is enormous investment in things that don’t affect health. In fact, several panelists mentioned payers/provider partnerships like the Allina/Aetna organization as key to strengthening healthcare going forward because they can help streamline billing, claims, payments, and other costly administrative functions.

Health disparities are on everyone’s minds

I was glad that the panel took time to discuss health disparities, not the least because the clinical team at OneOme will soon be presenting a poster on mitigating health disparities in pharmacogenomic testing through broad variant coverage, using the example of CYP2C9. (If you’re going to be at the ACMG Clinical Genetics Meeting in San Antonio this March, be sure to see it!)

The discussion ranged from hiring practices to social determinants of health to the idea of justice and medical harm. Dr. Gorlick, President and CEO of Children’s Minnesota used the example of asthma in his patient population to illustrate just how far the healthcare industry has to go. His passion in pointing out the unacceptable reality that there’s a 25% gap in how controlled a child’s asthma is, depending on the color of their skin was sobering.

Challenges beget opportunities

The current healthcare landscape is challenging, but it’s important to remember that the challenges we face create space for innovation. We are facing a time of change in healthcare; payment reform, rising consumerism, privacy concerns, legislative change, and new technologies are all pushing healthcare into new territory. As an industry, we have an unprecedented opportunity to shape what healthcare looks like for future generations. This panel demonstrated that the people in healthcare leadership recognize that opportunity and are working to steer the behemoth healthcare industry in a direction that will benefit everyone.

Alice Kirchhoff
About Alice Kirchhoff