Healthcare Innovation Through a Global Lens

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by Neil Patel, President, Healthbox & EVP, HIMSS

Over the past year, we have expanded our focus from the national to the global healthcare innovation landscape, participating in the illuminative healthcare conversations taking place around the world. I have had the privilege to judge startup competitions, sit on and moderate panel discussions, and deliver keynotes at HIMSS conferences in Spain, Australia, and Singapore. I had expected that the challenges healthcare providers and payors face in each of these markets would differ significantly from the obstacles we face in the United States, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. What we have in common far outweighs the differences. Granted, economies, policies, and cultures are unique to  each region I visited, but the challenges of access, affordability, and quality reign supreme.

In the United States we talk about transitioning from a fee-for-service payment system to one where we pay for value. The same conversation is happening in Singapore. Demanding that stakeholders are paid for the value they generate is rooted in strong business fundamentals. The payment models will certainly differ, but the concept is the same.

We talk about digital health innovations— how they can support transformative business models and bend the cost curve when they are knit together with a cohesive strategy. The same conversation has been happening in Australia for several years. In 2016 the country created the Australian Digital Health Agency, and by 2018, they launched a patient portal for everyone in the country. Their Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) deployed telehealth at scale for rural populations, combining their world-class logistics platform with innovative technologies to solve issues of access. In 2017 and 2018 the RFDS performed 88,188 telehealth consultations!

We want to unleash and make actionable the data that is stored in our EMRs to help physicians make better decisions at the point of care. In Spain, innovative companies recognize that there are cultural differences on top of language differences that make it difficult for companies in other regions to build local solutions and scale. They are capitalizing on the opportunity by using NLP with Catalan and Spanish language medical ontologies to develop culturally and regionally relevant clinical decision support.

In the innovation community, there is a running joke that “X” health system has more pilots than “insert your favorite airline” or that a health system suffers from “pilot-itis”. When I was in Singapore last month for the HIMSS eHealth Summit, the local colleagues told me that one of the executives at a recent CXO dialogue said that their health system had more pilots than Singapore Airlines. My first reaction was laughter to hear the same joke in Singapore, but frustration followed in recognizing that countries more than 10,000 miles apart have not been able to scale innovation. In Spain, I facilitated a session on this topic with startup CEOs, sharing best practices from my experiences on how to not get stuck in “pilot purgatory.” In Australia, I shared case studies with health system executives on the work Healthbox had been doing to develop innovation strategies and build innovation programs. Attendees were enlightened from my talk, specifically on the topic of innovation’s impact on culture, recruitment, and retention, and left eager to dive deeper into the topic with their colleagues at home. I also had the chance to learn from leaders from health systems in Sri Lanka and Malaysia who already had taken steps to make innovation a core competency at their health systems with well-functioning incubators and investment arms.

The road ahead of us to solve these issues of access, affordability, and quality is daunting, but I am excited that countries around the world are working on the same problems. Conversations like the ones we’ve had over the past year allow us to learn and share global best practices that help us all innovate and iterate faster. I look forward to continuing these conversations through Healthbox and HIMSS — I know we’re just getting started.

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