A Health Renaissance: Highlights From The 7th Annual Forbes Healthcare Summit – Forbes

By | December 4, 2018

DNA molecule, computer-generated.Getty

The theme of the 7th Annual Forbes Healthcare Summit, which took place in New York City November 27-28th, 2018, was Starting a Health Renaissance. Senior Health Editor, Matt Herper, opened the event by reminding us that medicine is always moving at a breakneck pace. Advances in immunotherapy and precision medicine are transforming cancer treatments. Artificial intelligence (AI) – previously in the purview of science fiction – is making a legitimate impression in public health. Social determinants of health need to be integrated into practical solutions for patients and communities. The big question: how can we take this kindling and set it ablaze? This year’s Summit again brought together some of healthcare’s most powerful individuals in pharma, biotech, finance, clinical medicine and beyond to tackle these issues head-on.

In the first panel, Herper interviewed venture capital legend, John Doerr, Chairman of Kleiner Perkins and financial backer of Google, Amazon and Uber, who is now shifting his focus to healthcare. Mr. Doerr did not mince words. “The leaders of our institutions are taking us to the wrong goals.” He emphasized the leadership approach of former Intel guru, Andy Grove, which Doerr discusses in his book Measure What Matters: “OKR is a deceptively simple idea.” Objectives and Key Results, i.e. the Why and How, should guide every leader in healthcare – as they did with Google and the Gates Foundation – in achieving goals that are measurable and verifiable.

Steffano Pessina, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, drew upon his “old-school manager” philosophy. “When you do a deal, you have to create value,” declared the Italian-born businessman. And every deal, he continued – particularly in reference to the Humana partnership – boils down to human connections. In response to Amazon’s increasingly popular online-driven platforms, Mr. Pesssina believed that customers still need a brick and mortar experience: “Human beings are social animals and they need daily human contact.”

Steve Forbes at The 2017 Forbes Women’s Summit in New York City.Star Max/IPx

Day two of the summit was chock full of fascinating speakers and discussions. Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media, underscored the holistic nature of health. “There’s more to health than just medicine: food, housing, family all matter,” stated Forbes. “Patients remain at the center of what we do.” Michael Dowling, President and CEO, Northwell Health, reinforced this point from a health system perspective:  “We need to broaden our definition of health,” said Dowling. “We need to screen for food insecurity; work with local farmer’s markets; and create food kitchens to teach patients how to cook.” Benefits of these programs thus far include fewer emergency department (ED) visits. He also proudly cited educational opportunities for students from low-income communities who “come to our health facilities for clinical opportunities. Now, one of these students has a full scholarship to medical school.”

Steve Forbes speaking with Michael Dowling, Northwell Health, and Jaewon Ryu, Geisinger.Lipi Roy

Another health system innovation was shared by Jaewon Ryu, CEO, Geisinger, who recognized the challenge older patients face in accessing medical care. Geisinger at Home now makes house calls to the sickest 5%, which has led to a decrease in ED admissions. He shared the cognitive dissonance among some of his management, i.e. ‘we’re investing in programs that are keeping people out of the hospital?” Ryu’s response? Yes, we are. Because at the very root, Ryu declared, reaching sick people at home to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations is better care. Home visits address loneliness, a widespread problem among elderly consumers, per Dr. Ryu.

Matt Herper speaking with John Arnold.Lipi Roy

John Arnold, energy billionaire and co-chair, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is using his philanthropy to change drug pricing. “’More is better’ is fine if we live in a world of infinite resources. But we don’t.” Just putting more money into a problem won’t fix it, continued Arnold. One of LJAF’s goals is to create competition within the drug sector. As an example, he cited the hepatitis C medication, sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) which is priced below its value. While Mr. Ford accurately stated that hepatitis C affects only 3% of the U.S. population, the disease costs *billions* of dollars annually. As a physician who has cared for patients with every possible complication of this viral illness – hepatic encephalopathy, liver cancer, kidney and lung failure, and massive upper gastrointestinal bleeding – I am all too aware of the burden of hepatitis C (medically, socially, economically). According to the CDC, hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease, now driven mostly by opioid-related intravenous drug use. Not treating this now-curable viral disease will be far costlier.

But perhaps the most moving moments of the conference were the deeply personal stories shared by people who’ve recovered from their illnesses. Each story reminded me of either a loved one or a patient I’ve had the honor of caring for. Biotech entrepreneur, Michael D. Becker, shared his experience with stage IV head and neck cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is associated with over 42,000 cases of cancer (including cervical, oropharyngeal and anal) each year, according to the CDC. The HPV vaccine, which can prevent nearly 90% of HPV-related cancers, can now be given to individuals up to age 45. Yet 51% of U.S. adolescents have not completed the HPV vaccine series.

Peter Bach, Lucy Kalanithi and Christi ShawLipi Roy

Equally moving was the panel, “Healthcare From the Outside In,” where medical and pharma insiders shared profoundly poignant stories of illness and death in their loved ones. Peter Bach, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering, discussed his wife’s experience with breast cancer and their journey together in his New York Magazine essay, The Day I Started Lying to Ruth. Lucy Kalanithi, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine, described intimate moments with neurosurgeon husband, Paul, whose poetically heroic battle with metastatic lung cancer was depicted in his bestselling memoir, When Breath Becomes Air. “I felt a strong responsibility to advocate for him,” recalled Dr. Kalanithi. When asked what healthcare’s focus should be moving forward, Kalanithi highlighted palliative care access, paid leave and financial support for caregivers. Eli Lilly and Company Senior Vice President, Christi Shaw, quit her executive post at Novartis to care for her older sister who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Even as an insider, Shaw was taken aback by the inpatient challenges: “I spent most of my time navigating the health care system, coordinating medical records and answering questions.”

To be sure, these are pressing times. According to the CDC, we are seeing a decline in life expectancy, mostly driven by the opioid crisis. Partnerships among companies, communities and congress need to aggressively and effectively address addiction and mental health – both of which are on the rise. I hope to see more events like the Forbes Healthcare Summit that bring together leaders and consumers from multiple industries. Transparency in sharing ideas, learning from our collective mistakes and adopting best practices, in my opinion, will foster a genuine health renaissance!

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