June 15, 2017
Alexandra Bohigian

Enola Labs creates custom strategy and products for mobile and web.

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Health Tech professionals and leading organizations in health and technology gathered in Austin this week for ‘The Future of Healthcare’ Conference hosted by Health Tech Austin. This event was laser focused on where healthcare is now and where it is expected to move over the next ten years. The convergence of technology in the healthcare realm is continuing to rise, even amongst the uncertainties of what the healthcare market holds. Enola Labs attended this conference as a part of our commitment to always staying on the cutting edge of health tech in Austin. Below is a brief synopsis of some of what was covered during this conference as well as our own analysis of what the future looks like for health tech innovation.

From Washington D.C. to Texas: The Future of Healthcare Reform

Presented by Sue Hart, FSA, MAAA

To understand the future of healthcare, Sue Hart explained that we must begin by looking at past reform proposals. In 2007, 27% of non-elderly Texans were uninsured. The goal of healthcare reform differs depending on who you are talking to, with one side of the aisle focused on shrinking the number of uninsured people and the other side focused more on reducing healthcare costs.

Ten years ago, hospital visits, emergency services, and lab services were generally covered by insurance. Prescription drugs, mental health and substance abuse, preventative services, and rehabilitation services were covered, but they had limits. Maternity was almost always not covered. In addition, patients with pre-existing conditions would be rated up or denied coverage entirely.

Looking forward a bit to 2015, the number of uninsured in Texas was down to 18%. This pointed to a significant number of Texans being able to secure insurance through the ACA exchange. Currently, all previous items that were “generally covered” or “usually never covered” are now in the fully covered category. There are now very few variations in premiums, more subsidies, no preexisting conditions, and a mandate for minimum coverage (or be faced with a penalty charge).

Today and in the future, Texans and the rest of the U.S. will hear several healthcare reform proposals, all claiming to be the best possible option. Sue Hart provided a list of the six main components of healthcare reform that can allow for easier analysis of healthcare reform proposals.

1. Sources of Coverage and Markets

2. State Flexibility

3. Covered Benefits and Cost-Sharing

4. Allowable Variation in Premiums

5. Pre-Existing Conditions Approach

6. Subsidies and Mandates

It becomes apparent that most of healthcare reform is focused on financials. With the passage of the American Health Care Act in the House on May 4th, 2017 (and up for further review and changes or rewrites in the Senate), more significant changes can be expected in the healthcare reform realm. This naturally leaves a lot to the unknown for technology companies looking to involve themselves in the healthcare industry.

Looking towards the future, Sue Hart believes that while data resources and technology are growing and expanding, they are still siloed and decentralized. By centralizing and mapping data assets and technology from a variety of sources, actual healthcare outcomes can be improved. For example, Electronic Health Records are common, but they are too inconsistent and difficult to integrate into actionable analytics. This leaves great opportunity for technology companies looking to find their place within the industry.

This conversation about looking into the future relationships between healthcare providers and technology led into the next panel on collaborative partnerships between hospitals and technology companies.

Collaborative Partnerships: The Future of Hospitals

Presented by Cherie Boxberger, Regional VP of American Heart Association; Julie Chicoine, Senior VP of the Texas Hospital Association; Moderated by Edgar Walters, Investigative Reporter for the Texas Tribune

During this presentation, the panelists focused on the essential role technology will and must play in preventative care and hospital collaboration. With 10,000 people in the U.S. turning 70 every day, most with at least two morbid conditions, healthcare needs to be focused on and embrace a long-term care model. With an aging population, hospitals cannot handle this alone. This is where technology can play a pivotal role in healthcare— not only in filling in the gaps in healthcare access, but also in helping with preventative care.

Emergency healthcare is extremely costly, and even when patients do not have health insurance or the money for these procedures, they will still get the emergency attention they need. This does not make this healthcare free; at the end of the day someone is going to pay these healthcare costs. In response, the panelists posed the question: How do we avoid these costly emergency visits in the first place? The answer? Preventative care at a community level. This means healthcare systems must invest in technology that can be used amongst underserved communities who can’t afford medical care (especially emergency medical care) because investing in preventative care technology for these communities is significantly cheaper than paying for their emergency event.

Also discussed was the idea of healthcare access, encompassing both physical access to hospitals and financial access to hospitals. Technology can help to fill these gaps in both kinds of access. For example, a patient in rural Texas with mental health issues may have a health emergency and be sent to the emergency room. Unfortunately, this rural hospital may not have a mental health professional to see the patient. With telemedicine technology, this patient would be able to get the care they need from any hospital. In terms of financial access, patients in underserved communities could have access to technologies that promote preventative health, with the goal of making expensive emergency visits a much rarer occurrence.

Discerning Capital: The Future of Health Tech Investing

Presented by Rick Davis, CEO of LOHAS Capital; Krishna Srinivasan, Founding Partner of LiveOak Venture Partners; Dr. Hubert Zajicek, CEO and Co-Founder of Health Wildcatter; Moderated by Brent Wistrom, Staff Writer at Austin Inno

The final presentation of this conference was a panel focused on the health tech investing space. These panelists provided information and advice for innovators within technology companies and entrepreneurs who are looking to join the health tech space.

The panelists agreed that healthcare “problems” should only be tackled if they are real problems—something that has been identified as a problem by patients, doctors, insurers, etc. and not just something that looks or sounds trendy within the entrepreneur or tech company’s mind. They advised to first identity the problem and then substantiate the claim. They should be able to demonstrate a clear constituency desiring the product or tool, or be able to demonstrate to a constituency that this product is desirable and could be exponentially valuable to their lives.

Healthcare is a bit more complicated as opposed to typical startups because there are so many laws and regulations in place. Panelist Dr. Hubert Zajicek stated that it is okay for technology professionals to be a lawbreaker in thinking and approaching their proposals, but they must also understand that there are reasons these laws are in place. Tech entrepreneurs without a background in the medical industry must discuss these laws with healthcare professionals to understand the reasons they are in place. Startup owners with no medical background who go into the health tech field thinking they can change the laws and rules after they bring their technology to market will inevitably fail.

Panelist Krishna Srinivasan argued that health tech is the fastest growing vertical segment in the state, and all agreed that they are deeply optimistic about this space – particularly in Austin.

The Takeaways

‘The Future of Healthcare’ event hosted by Health Tech Austin highlighted that even with several unknowns in healthcare reform in the present—and undeniably to come in the future—there is no stopping the embrace of technology in healthcare. There is an infinite amount of room for innovation in this arena, and it is up to technology companies to innovate and healthcare providers to continue to collaborate and embrace these innovations in order for the innovation to be actualized. We are just scratching the surface in healthcare and it looks like there will be some extraordinary innovations in technology within this realm.

At Enola Labs, we have a team of health tech consultants with proven expertise navigating nearly every aspect in this space. If you are interested in learning more about our experience in the healthcare technology space, contact us today.