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Boston Healthcare Races To Innovate Ahead Of CVS, Aetna And Other Disruption

Boston Children’s Hospital Executive Vice President of Health Affairs and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Kevin Churchwell, Array Advisors Practice Leader Jonathan Bykowski, Partners Healthcare Vice President of Connected Health Dr. Joseph Kvedar and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Chief Development Officer Kristine Laping

Innovation abounds within the operating rooms and research labs at Greater Boston’s numerous hospitals, but spreading that innovative spirit throughout a healthcare campus is seen as a necessity to survive in an industry faced with oncoming disruption.

“It is shocking how far behind healthcare is in terms of digital and virtual communication internally. We have all these silly and completely faux notions about integrated and coordinated care,” Array Advisors Practice Leader Jonathan Bykowski said. “The fact that they can’t all text each other seems inane.”

From telehealth to artificial intelligence, panelists at Bisnow’s State of Boston Healthcare event last week touted the benefits of bringing technology into the orbit of healthcare. But while the industry has been slow to adapt to so much as electronic patient records, panelists and audience members agreed it is time for a change when disruptors have their eyes set on shaking the foundations of healthcare.

Steffian Bradley Architects principal and Managing Director Teresa Wilson, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Senior Vice President Elizabeth Liebow and Boston Children’s Hospital Executive Vice President of Health Affairs and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Kevin Churchwell

“There’s been a fear technology would alienate patients from their care experience, but there are technologies that can actually enhance patient-centered care,” Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Chief Development Officer Kristine Laping said.

OpenNotes is a movement co-founded by Harvard Medical School professor and physician Tom Delbanco and Harvard Medical School associate professor Jan Walker. The measure encourages doctors and healthcare providers to share their medical notes with visiting patients through electronic patient portals. While there was initial hesitation from some providers, more than 27 million patients utilize OpenNotes today

“Not only did it result in greater patient satisfaction, patient ownership of their own health and engagement with their caregivers, it also resulted in better health outcomes,” Laping said. “Patients followed doctors orders, understood them and remembered them because of more detailed documentation.”

HDR Architecture Healthcare principal and New England Market Sector Leader Jessica Stebbins, Partners HealthCare Corporate Director of Real Estate Services, Systems and Analytics Jay Phillips and BR+A President Allan Ames

The embrace of technology extends to the rise of telemedicine, where patients are able to access a virtual medical team from their home, even outside of normal office hours. The industry is still figuring out how to marry convenience with the bedside manner patients expect.

“There’s a big concern of, 'Are we going to lose the connection with our patients and their families if we go really far off?'” Boston Children’s Hospital Executive Vice President of Health Affairs and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Kevin Churchwell said. “I think we’ll figure it out, but those are the challenges we are facing.”

The digital psychiatry clinic founded by Dr. John Torous at Beth Israel is a good example of how to balance face-to-face and digital care, Laping said. Others in the industry point to One Medical, a healthcare startup offering 24/7 virtual care as well as in-person visits at its offices in eight U.S. cities. The push for change in doctor-patient interaction comes as the industry is facing an onslaught of disruption.

IlluminateNE specification sales representative Guillermo Sierra, Steward Health Care Vice President Ronald Doncaster and DPR Construction Healthcare Core Market Leader George Hurley

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase selected Boston earlier this summer to be the headquarters city for their combined healthcare co-venture expected to offer affordable healthcare for their combined hundreds of thousands of employees. While details are limited on that entrant, CVS Health Corp.’s $66B deal to acquire health insurer Aetna was discussed by panelists and audience members due to indications it will capitalize on the trend of affordable, ambulatory care being provided away from a main hospital campus.

“There’s a lot of fluent activity principally driven by the rising cost of healthcare and the counterbalancing pushes to keep costs down,” Atrius Health CEO Dr. Steven Strongwater said. “There is this movement of pairs to have more control over the delivery system and for innovators to change the dynamic.”

The CVS plan is to convert many of its pharmacies into health delivery hubs and offer as much as 80% of the healthcare a patient could want or need, Strongwater said. CVS’ MinuteClinics and its partnership with Epic Systems, a medical record provider, give it the capability to integrate more healthcare into its existing pharmacies. The CVS model is expected to complement hospital healthcare delivery systems.

Suffolk Vice President of Operations Michael Forth and Atrius Health CEO Dr. Steven Strongwater

“They are expecting, I would argue, the world is going to continue to move toward value, and they are going to want a piece of the per-member, per-month payment in partnership with other delivery systems,” Strongwater said. 

As for what is driving all the mergers and entrants, Strongwater said it all comes down to opportunity and consumer trends. U.S. healthcare spending is expected to account for $5.5 trillion, or 20% of the country’s gross domestic product, by 2025.

“Like Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, it’s because that’s where the money is,” he said.