June 1, 2021

Highlights From the 2021 STAT Health Tech Summit

Blue lights

When STAT was launched six years ago by Boston Globe owner John Henry, it was a media startup, and an unusual one. As media consolidation continued and, too often, “the science beat was among the first to be eliminated,” STAT went against the tide to provide “trusted and authoritative journalism about health, medicine, and the life sciences.” Since 2019, this has included their annual Summit conference.

The 2021 virtual conference covered health technology through, by necessity, the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a variety of speakers on everything from remote monitoring to telehealth, with points of view everywhere from investors to entrepreneurs.

Full coverage of the meeting is, of course, at STAT, but we wanted to provide you with our own highlight reel – a few of the moments we found to be most meaningful, interesting, forward-looking, or otherwise notable.

“The Entrepreneur Behind Amazon Pharmacy”
TJ Parker, who co-created PillPack, which is now Amazon Pharmacy, spoke to STAT health tech reporter Erin Brodwin about the online pharmacy’s past, present, and future.

While he did quip that one bonus of not being a tiny startup anymore was better sleep, he spoke more seriously about the tricky balance of growth, saying, “We were in the right place to create PillPack, because we really understood the customers’ pain points but were naïve to all the reasons PillPack ‘couldn’t have worked.’ Now, we understand the industry, but we’re still customer focused. Maintaining that customer focus is our biggest priority and concern.”

Finding Opportunity in Forgotten Patients”
The cofounders of Cityblock Health spoke to STAT national technology correspondent Casey Ross about their startup, which provides primary care, behavioral health, and substance abuse treatment to low-income patients, and which has been valued at $1 billion. “Access to digital health is a basic survival need at this point,” said Dr. Toyin Ajayi, cofounder and Chief Health Officer of Cityblock Health. The cofounders explained that, pre-COVID-19, it was assumed that you couldn’t engage poor people digitally, but as that became the only option, innovation happened – though not enough.

Cofounder and CEO Iyah Romm noted that an employee was currently writing an article on “trauma-informed approaches to software design,” and pointed out that their success hinged on building trust, and designing their business to do “what it will take to get people to call us, no matter what happens in their life – not just about their diabetes meds, but about being safe at home, having transportation to the pharmacy, whether you have a job or three, whether you have childcare – designing a system that meets all of those needs.” Also, Dr. Ajayi related the story of one grandmother who lamented, “look, doctor, if you just snapchatted me when to take my insulin, I would!” – because she used Snapchat to communicate with her grandchildren. “Challenge accepted!” Dr. Ajayi said. “We’ll try to meet you where you are.”

“Healthcare’s Unseen Force”
Aashima Gupta, who spearheads healthcare industry strategy and solutions for Google Cloud, spoke with STAT’s health tech correspondent Mario Aguilar. On a personal note, she disclosed that she had had to fly to India because her mother had been critically ill with COVID-19. In the context of the pandemic and the post-pandemic world, she noted that too often, healthcare has been creating a false dichotomy: “Telehealth isn’t a binary choice; it’s a continuum,” she said.

“How AI Is Changing Medicine Right Now”
Dr. Alan Karthikesalingam is another Googler – a research scientist at Google Health UK – as well as a lecturer in vascular surgery at Imperial College. In speaking with STAT’s Casey Ross about the use of AI in medicine, he pointed out that its use wasn’t much different from current practice. “Already, clinicians double-check each other,” he said. Soon, AI and clinicians will be double-checking each other.

What Measuring Blood Sugar in Real Time Means to Patients”
Here, patient advocates Kylene D. Redmond and Debbie Foerster spoke with STAT health tech correspondent Katie Palmer about their experiences with diabetes, and with the “game-changing” new style of monitoring. They discussed how one unusually long appointment with a new doctor provided the education and information to alter how the disease was managed, and pointed out “the difference that 90 minutes made in my quality of life.” (For an Intouch blog post related to the Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor, read “The Nick of Time.”)

“Follow the Money: What’s Next in Health Tech”
Deena Shakir of Lux Capital and Annie Lamont from Oak HC/FT spoke with STAT Mario Aguilar about the investors’ points of view on health tech, noting that this is a “fascinating time to be a healthcare VC.” While once, tech-enabled healthcare solutions and services didn’t always have such a clear return profile, and were often met with skepticism, “now folks who hadn’t thought about healthcare are piling on.” With healthcare making up 20% of the U.S. economy, it’s easy to do the math and see why.

“Re-Imagining the Business of Medicine”
Dr. Elizabeth Fowler of the CMS Innovation Center and Dr. Farzad Mostashari of Aledade spoke with STAT healthcare reporter Rachel Cohrs on how CMS is approaching healthcare. Dr. Fowler spoke of her drive to make changes that are prosocial.

Dr. Mostashari pointed out, “The majority of HCPs don’t work in wholly owned, independent practices, but it’s way more than we think. We don’t talk about independent practices nearly enough. We think healthcare is entirely in the hands of consolidated giants.”

He admitted that while the U.S. healthcare system had pushed HCPs to consolidate with fee-for-service models, it hadn’t had its intended positive effect, noting, “You don’t need consolidation to get integration – we’ve seen that it does not lead to that!”

Dr. Fowler agreed, saying, “We want to give space for innovators and innovation …. We don’t want people to succeed because they were able to game the system.” And, from a health equity point of view, she noted, “We want to ensure that the models that we use lift all boats.”

Providing healthcare businesses with a litmus test for their value proposition, Dr. Mostashari said, “Assume that the regulator is really smart and wants what’s best for the country – like Liz! [Dr. Fowler] Now, go build your business. You’ll assume they’ll set policies where your profit depends on your ability to improve the public good. If that doesn’t work for you, the solution isn’t to change the regulator, it’s to change your business model.”