Change, Innovation and Patience: Healthcare in 2018 | Marcus Whitney | Health:Further

Is it too late to do a 2017 recap and a look-ahead to 2018? Everyone does it, we’re just doing it a week later. To think about what happened in 2017 - and what it could mean - and what might happen in 2018, I spoke with Health:Further CEO Marcus Whitney.

For the full conversation listen below or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher. Be sure to listen through for Whitney’s thoughts on the big-headline trend that he thinks might not where people think it is. And why doing less, better is a privilege.

“The number one trend,” said Whitney, “was change.”

More change than usual? Obviously that’s a complex, and possibly unanswerable question. Still, 2017 did have a different vibe to it:

“We saw incredible mergers and partnerships at the highest level in healthcare that we never quite thought that we would see … I think the CVS-Aetna merger really shook up the landscape.”

In addition, politics…how do we say this?… was a thing. A big thing.

“Obviously, it was a challenging year on Capitol Hill with regard to figuring out what to do with healthcare and how we’re going to pay for it.”

While there was change throughout healthcare, there was a lack of progress in DC, and there will be implications of the lack of progress. We just don’t know what those implications will be. And now there’s uncertainty due to the new tax bill. What will the economy look like in a year or two, and how will the elimination of the personal mandate play out?

While all that was going on, those of us on the ground kept plugging away and fixing the health  landscape. “At the lower levels in terms of innovation,” said Whitney, “there were a slew of investments … and a lot of innovative companies began to make their mark.”

There were also some situations that resolved, at least in part.

“The Theranos shake-out was a big deal and made everyone rethink what innovation in healthcare should look like and how we need to be thoughtful as we approach these things … it’s people’s lives and we can’t get it wrong.”

What does this look like when you roll it all together? Whitney said,

“I think we’re all learning a little bit more about how to responsibly innovate in the healthcare space and that’s a good thing, obviously ... And generally I think we improved the quality of the conversation. We were able to talk across silos last year in a way that it seemed like we weren’t able to do before.”

Playing devil’s advocate I asked Whitney if he thinks people have really absorbed the lessons and have started to - or are going to start to - apply them for the sake of positive change. “I do,” he said. He used the example of Health:Further’s Innovation Program partners:

“We’re working directly with the people who provide care … and what we’re seeing inside the C-suites is an increase in priority of their innovation initiatives. Where now, the people who run innovation in their organization are … much more combined with the direction of their organization. And I think this is the recognition that things are not going to be static or predictable, that we’re not in the previous fifteen years. We’re in a new era. Technology is going to touch this era, globalization is going to touch this era, and certainly the very unstable world of politics is going to touch this industry. So I get the sense that there are a lot of lessons being learned and that people are ready to act but act responsibly.”

Simply seeing the willingness to act is exciting to Whitney. He pointed out that fear and greed are motivators when it comes to an economy.

“For a long time, [healthcare was] making so much money … but now I think fear is starting to set in. The number of hospitals that have been closed over the last two or three years … it’s clear that the market is moving, that consolidation is being required in order to get better scales of economy and squeeze more out of these ever thinning margins.”

Another positive thing Whitney sees is a realistic accounting of what it’s going to take to implement the changes necessary to fixing health and healthcare.

“We didn’t get here in one year’s time, so what I think is exciting is a recognition that this is going to be a process and that this is going to take quite a while to get right. But there seems to be a sensibility about the need to identify the issues.”

Whitney was quick to point out that when he says issues, he doesn’t mean “hot-button headlines or the symptoms.” It’s deeper than that. He sees people working to identify the root causes leading to the headlines. Once those are identified, “That’s where you can get to solutions.”

And back to that idea of a process. This thing we’re trying to do will take a lot of patience, even from innovators with great ideas they’re trying to get to market:

“I don’t see the sales cycles for the absorption of innovation changing drastically this year. I think it’s still going to be a slog for the innovation community to make that progress. But I think that 2019 that might change.”

Instead, 2018 could be a year of laying the groundwork.

“What I think we’re going to see this year is organizations are going to figure out what innovation actually means to them … once they figure out what it actually means the next question is whether or not they’re open about their innovation or if they’re closed about their innovation. And if they decide they’re open, then they have to figure out how they’re going to absorb innovation.”
“So yeah, I think that 2018 should be an exciting year. If you’re an innovator it should be exciting for you.”