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My 22 Oldest Jokes and Why they Still Matter in 2022

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

I have been studying American healthcare for more than 40 years and I have assembled a large number of one-liners over the years. As we enter 2022, I thought I’d share my 22 oldest jokes and why they still matter.

Coming to America

  1. I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland.  In Glasgow, healthcare is a right, carrying a machine gun is a privilege. America got it the wrong way round.

Gun violence continues to ravage the United States. We have more guns than people. Kids get gunned down in school playgrounds and classrooms routinely. It happened once in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996 when a local shopkeeper walked into Dunblane Primary School and opened fire, killing 16 5- and 6-year-olds and their 45-year-old teacher.  It so galvanized public opinion, according to Smithsonian Magazine:  “By the end of 1997, Parliament had banned private ownership of most handguns, including a semi-automatic weapons ban and required mandatory registration for shotgun owners”.

Last time I looked, gun violence was the second leading cause of death in children in the US.  In America when we have mass shootings all we get are thoughts and prayers.

And when it comes to healthcare as a right, even if we Build Back Better, it won’t be a right for millions of American residents, especially those who are undocumented.

2. I am a Scottish Canadian Californian which gives me a unique perspective on healthcare (and all things to do with healthcare, including death and dying) because the Scots see death as imminent, Canadians see death as inevitable, and Californians see death as optional.

This is one of my oldest jokes and it remains true.  In Silicon Valley, where I live, my affluent VC friends want to live forever and are working out and taking supplements to achieve that. In contrast, my British friend Dr. Richard Smith (former Editor of the BMJ) is sitting on the Lancet Commission on the Value of Death.  Enough said. (https://commissiononthevalueofdeath.wordpress.com/category/about-us/)

3. Canada could have been the best country in the world: it could have combined American know how, British ethics, and French culture. Unfortunately, it got American culture, British know how and French ethics, a particularly nasty combination.

Canada is still a great place, especially in contrast to a Trumpian America, but they have had their own issues with competence and corruption in recent years.

4. As to why Americans can’t do Canadian-style healthcare: “I lived in Canada, I trained in health economics and health policy in Canada, my wife is Canadian, and most of my extended family live in Canada.  So the short answer is “You are not Canadian:  Canadians are different from Americans they describe themselves as Unarmed Americans with Health Insurance.” (The latter part is borrowed). 

Despite all their troubles, including waiting times for MRIs and elective surgery, Canadians remain fiercely loyal to their healthcare system and view it more positively than their American counterparts do their own system.  https://leger360.com/surveys/legers-north-american-tracker-july-13-2021/

For Canadians their health care system is a proud point of cultural differentiation from Americans.

5. Why do the French have the highest rated health system in the world? It has very little to do with their health system. The real reason is that the French walk, they drink red wine, and they get naked in the summer. Nothing will keep your BMI down better than getting naked in the summer.

The French still smoke at higher rates than the US and consume more alcohol, and in recent years their diet has increasingly been Americanized by fast food, hypermarkets, and industrialization of cafes and restaurants.  Even though they had their own challenges with Covid, they have life expectancy above comparable countries, whereas America is far below that metric and going in the wrong direction. https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/quality-u-s-healthcare-system-compare-countries/

On Being a Health Consumer or a Patient

6. (Healthcare) Quality is being in a waiting room with people who earn more money than you do.

Despite enormous investments in what I call the quality police (the health industry agencies and actors who measure, manage, accredit, approve and regulate healthcare quality), the public still has a great deal of difficulty in judging health quality.   Consumers confuse choice with quality.  Patients are frightened and usually defer to their doctors when the chips are down.   Having gone through a serious healthcare surgery recently at Stanford, I would say a pretty good surrogate for quality is being in a waiting room with the affluent crowd. 

By the way, I used this line in a talk to venture capitalists a few years ago.  They looked at me with incredulity and nobody laughed, because nobody makes more money than they do.

7. Good Health is a state of incomplete diagnosis (Borrowed). 

I credit my friend Bill Rosenburg, formerly of KPMG and Met Life with this line.  It was also widely circulated by my old mentor Bob Evans at UBC.  No matter the ultimate provenance of the joke, it is one of the best descriptors of modern medicine.  

If you look hard enough, everyone has something wrong.  Most cultures don’t bother finding out and it either resolves itself or it doesn’t.

8. The Quantified Self movement is going to lead to a Frenzy of Cyberchondria, overwhelmed with false positives and the hyper worried well 

Do you really want to know your blood pressure in real time, all day long from your smart watch?  Does your doctor want 15 terabytes of data from your Peloton? Let me tell you: she does not. 

This technology can be incredibly helpful if we develop the right use cases, particularly in managing vulnerable folk.  Continuous monitoring of the buff seems like a waste of resources.

9. It’s tough to be cost conscious when you’re unconscious.

I used to tease the great Alain Enthoven with this line.  I’m all for more cost consciousness by consumers, but as Mike Tyson famously said: “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the mouth.” 

10. How to pick a health plan 

Step 1.  Decide on the diseases you and your family are going to have in the coming year

Step 2.  Find the best doctors and hospitals for those diseases

Step 3. Identify which plans offer those doctors and hospitals

Step 4.  Select the cheapest plan

Step 5.  If there are no affordable plans with all the doctors and hospitals you want, go back to Step 1 and pick some new diseases

This accurately describes how many Americans are asked to select health plan options whether in Exchanges, Medicare, employer sponsored coverage or even Medicaid. The joke tries to point to the absurdity of selecting a plan that meets your needs when by definition no one has perfect vision of their future health and disease.  (See Mike Tyson).  Maybe we should figure out a system to pay for care for people who need it, rather than paying for coverage that doesn’t cover what patients may need when they get sick.

On the Role of Employers

11. When it comes to healthcare employers are Cranky, Confused, Aimless and Spineless.

The genesis of this line was a meeting in the early 1990s with the CEO of Baxter Vern Loucks and his leadership team.  My colleague Bob Leitman of the Harris Poll and I were presenting the results form our annual Healthcare Outlook surveys of consumers, physicians and employers.  We had too many slides and generated great discussion and so of course, we ran out of time.  As the meeting closed Loucks turned to me and asked what does the employer survey show in a nutshell: “When it comes to healthcare Employers are cranky, confused, aimless (I said)…..and spineless (Bob added)”.  

“Exactly” Loucks responded “you two are going to come with me next month to tell some other CEOs exactly that”.  Loucks was an ex-marine and a central casting CEO you would follow him anywhere. 

Loucks office called the next day and we were asked to appear in St. Louis at Emerson Electric in a couple of weeks time.  We waited in the board room and in walked Loucks with fellow CEOs Chuck Knight of Emerson Electric and Auggie Busch of Anheuser Busch.

“Tell them what you told me” Loucks said.  “Employers are cranky, confused, aimless and spineless,” we said.

Not missing a beat Auggie Busch said: “Yeah but we are not stupid.  Labor costs are a small part of our business, (we spend more on advertising) and healthcare costs are just 10% of labor costs”. We had a great discussion about healthcare.  Oh, and they did fire the benefit manager some months later, sorry.

I am a long-time advisor to PBGH (Purchaser Business Group Health) which represents industry giants like Wal-Mart, Disney, Boeing and Apple and more than 40 others household names.  They are becoming much more activated in both purchasing and policy making as they deal with the consquences of Covid, and the reality that the healthcare provider “game” is completely dependent on self insured employers for their financial sustainability.  https://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2020/05/19/the-end-of-the-game/

Stay tuned for more employer activation in 2022.

On Obamacare and Replacing It

12. On Republican Plans to Repeal and Replace Obamacare: “It’s like breaking up the Beatles where you just keep George and Ringo and expect it to sound good.”

Mercifully, John McCain gave Repeal and Replace a thumbs down, but Republicans were close to repealing Obamacare and ripping out the essence of the program (the John and Paul) of raising taxes and subsidizing exchanges and Medicaid expansion.

13. Republican policies are ideologically coherent, they’re just not actuarially coherent

All of the Republican proposals to replace Obamacare were consistent with smaller government principles but they all fell short on affordability for consumers, reduction in the uninsured, and the resulting positive effects on health and financial security of the newly covered.

On Medicaid

14. Medicaid is bigger than France, It’s bigger than Wal-Mart

Medicaid expansion has occurred over the last ten years in 38 states and more recent government action to fight Covid has further expanded Medicaid rolls in every state.  Build Back Better provisions, if enacted, would further expand eligibility for the program.  Even if BBB doesn’t pass, Medicaid will still be bigger than France in terms of number of enrollees and bigger than Wal-Mart in total revenue.  Massive Medicaid is the default program for an increasing number of poor, elderly and vulnerable populations, yet payment rates to providers are inadequate, this will be a central challenge for the future.

15. It’s easier to get into Princeton than to get a Medicaid card in Texas.

This is a true statement for childless adults, because like many other Southern states childless adults are not eligible for Medicaid.  And even worse, if you are in a category eligible for Medicaid but you earn more than $3,733 per year for a family of 3 (17% of the Federal Poverty Level), you are too rich to qualify for Medicaid in Texas.  Princeton has got to be easier to get into.

On Business Models

16. The prevailing metaphor for American healthcare is “Pimp my Ride”

As I wrote back in 2005:

“If you have teenage kids, you end up watching a lot of MTV or you have nothing to talk to your children about.  My kids are both in college now, but I have watched a lot of MTV in my time.  My favorite show of the moment is “Pimp My Ride”.  The show is in the genre of all makeover reality shows.  In this case a rapper host introduces a poor kid and their beaten up old car (the ride).   The car is taken from the young adult and transformed by a team from West Coast Custom (a body shop and customization company in LA).  

Each episode shows a different kid and a different car:  clapped out Pintos, beaten up Suburbans, and a plethora of ugly, weird, old and dilapidated camper/truck hybrids.  The process is always the same: they strip the car’s interior and install an unbelievable array of stereo equipment (woofers and sub-woofers included), video displays (even laptops) and the whole thing is topped off with an amazing paint job in vibrant blue or dazzling yellow, topped up with custom painted flames on the side.  They never seem to do anything to the engine, drive train, or chassis of any of these vehicles.    At the close of each episode the youngster is shown the transformed vehicle that has been “pimped” and they can never contain their excitement.  They are deeply grateful.

The prevailing vision of quality in American healthcare is “Pimp My Ride”.

We take a really bad chassis and engine and bolt on unbelievable amounts of high technology on a frame that is tired, old and ineffective.  We spend extravagantly on buildings, machines, drugs, devices, and people at West Coast Custom Healthcare.  The people who own the rides are very grateful because they don’t have to pay for it in a high deductible catastrophic coverage world, once you are over your deductible and ensconced in an American hospital the sky’s the limit.  It all looks great, has a fantastic sound system, and nice seats but it will break down if you try and drive it anywhere”.

I rest my case.

17. Really rich people don’t pay taxes, unless they have bad accountants

I actually got this joke from my accountant.  He was correctly pointing out to me the fact that the ultra-rich have a wide variety of offshore and other tax avoidance schemes that are unavailable to even the ordinary affluent.

18. One man’s waste is another man’s income.  Modern variant:  One man’s surprise bill is another man’s lucrative business model

The whole surprise billing policy shenanigans has underscored the fact that many providers such as ER doctors and anesthesiologist (especially if they are private equity backed), air ambulance services and many others are completely dependent on surprises as their business model. Hospitals and health systems are often complicit in these models and it is why they are resisting the rules of adjudication of surprise bills which will inevitably reduce the economic yield from out of network activity.

19. Managed Care Definition: An organized system of healthcare financing and delivery that takes the excess profits of hospitals, specialists, and drug companies and gives them to consultants

Managed care been “berry, berry” good to me.  Managed care unleashed a gravy train for consultants that has continued for 30 plus years (with only minor perturbation by Covid).  The current managed care variants of value-based purchasing and population health still haven’t dealt with the fundamental question if managed care is so great why have American healthcare costs continued to rise faster and higher than anywhere in the world over the last 30 years and life expectancy and other indicators have gotten worse relative to our advanced country peers. 

20. At some point in the next five years the revenue from the Revenue Cycle Industry will exceed the revenue of the hospitals they serve in the financial management equivalent of the Rapture.

We have armies of people faxing things to each other and in the modern version we have dueling robots where automatic upcoding by hospitals meets automated denials by health plans.  At some point the robots will explode and the health system will meltdown.

On Disruption

21. When smart Alec start up CEOs call me with a plan to disrupt American healthcare I give the same speech.  The American healthcare system is larger than the entire Italian economy and about as well organized.  So if you think you are going to disrupt healthcare it’s a bit like saying you are going to disrupt Italy. Good luck with that.

US healthcare just edged out the German economy as the fourth largest economy in the world (it is actually twice the size of the Italian economy).  Such massive incumbency is not easily moved. The new disruptors with the massive resources thrown at them in 2021, also have massive burn rates which will be challenged in the next 24 months to deliver on the lofty promises.  I wish them well, we need the innovation. Ciao.

On Being a Futurist

22.  My definition of a futurist is an economist who couldn’t handle the calculus.

I have been in the sweeping generalization business for more than forty years.  I like data and arithmetic, calculus not so much.  But I believe that if something is going to be a big deal in the future it has to start some time and be detectable to human beings without fancy mathematics.  Jokes can help tell those fundamental truths.  

Ian Morrison, PhD is an author, consultant and futurist in Menlo Park, California

Policies Techies VCS: What’s Next For Healthcare; Musings from a Futurist

Monday, September 20th, 2021

I should’ve been in Paris last week on vacation with my wife, instead I listened in to the Policies Techies VCS:  What’s Next For Healthcare conference (I’ll explain why later).  Matthew Holt and Jessica DaMassa did a magnificent job of assembling the Who’s Who of digital health tech to wax lyrical about what the new kids on the block were up to, where it is all headed, and what it will mean for the system. (Full disclosure Matthew and Jess are friends of mine, I hired Matthew from Stanford almost 30 years ago to join the Institute For The Future (IFTF) and have watched proudly as he has become a Health 2.0 impresario.  Jess simply deserves a gold medal for wrangling Holt and all the other tech Bros with wit, charm and intelligence).

This is a tumultuous time for digital health technology because of the pandemic and the related rise of digital solutions not to mention the very frothy investment market and massive deal flow over the last 24 months.   There are a lot of exciting new faces.  But, many of the companies on display have been at this for some.   And for many of the old guard, like Livongo and now Transcarent Founder Glen Tullman, Athena Health and now Zus Founder Jonathan Bush, and Amwell CEO Roy Schoenberg and others this has been a much longer journey.

(Parenthetically, as a young management engineer in Canada, a position, I was not qualified for, I wrote the justification for an all-computerized hospital at the University of British Columbia in 1979!  I still find it just incredibly pathetic that it has taken us 40 years to suddenly “discover” digital health. I wrote The Second Curve which forecast (among other things) the rise of digitally enabled health transformation 25 years ago!  So it is hard for me to get really excited that this is either “new” or “next”.)

So, while a lot of us have been in this movie for a long time, there is something very different about the current crop of offerings.  In particular, technology has advanced considerably and there are clearly new cloud and SaaS tech enabled care solutions.  There is a new cadre of talented and committed investors and entrepreneurs who believe they have the capability and capital to scale meaningful enterprises that will disrupt incumbent healthcare players and better serve consumers and providers.  And the timing seems right as the pandemic forced consumers and the health care system to confront new ways of doing business.

Common Origins

Most of the entrepreneurs on display at the conference had the same origin story. Almost all had a bad experience with healthcare (either themselves or an immediate family member, some tragically and painfully so) and this so motivated them that they committed their life and talent to fixing a healthcare system which they see as profoundly dysfunctional, overly complex, unresponsive, and that currently runs on brain-dead information technology (what I have termed “steam driven legacy systems”). 

(As a Scot I find these entrepreneur origins very interesting.  In Scotland we complain about things all the time, but when we find organizations dysfunctional and unresponsive, what usually happens is we go to the pub and moan to our friends: “That’s terrible, something should be done about that” and then two pints later you just forget about it.   Not so these young (and some not so young) entrepreneurs).

A lot of these new CEOs are engineers.  About 20 years ago I was presenting to hospital leaders at a conference on the future of healthcare organized by McKesson. I gave a talk about where I thought things were headed and urged hospitals to reengineer care for the future.  Another speaker was the father of industrial engineering and he admonished me for my naïveté saying: “Ian, you can’t reengineer healthcare because it was never engineered in the first place!”

This maybe the source of frustration for many entrepreneurs, particularly tech bros who come into healthcare with an engineering background from another industry.  American health care is a $4 trillion enterprise, the fifth biggest economy in the world.  It is twice as large as the entire Italian economy and about as well organized.  It was never engineered.  So when tech entrepreneurs say “I’m going to disrupt American healthcare” it’s a bit like saying I’m going to disrupt Italy….Good luck with that!

Six Core Assumptions:  Don’t Take them For Granted

There was a fantastic array of more than 20 panels and keynotes in the conference almost all of which was populated by “New New Thing” thinking CEOs (not an incumbent in sight, a deliberate choice by the organizers).   Conference participants got a picture of the full range of digital health tech offerings and new service businesses with strong digital backbones.  I won’t even begin to summarize all of the excellent content.  Just go look it up yourself and you can relive it all.  

But I was struck that there were six core assumptions made by almost everyone who presented, assumptions that I think you have to be careful not to take for granted.

Assumption 1: Value Based Care is Inevitable.  

Most presenters seem to believe value-based care is the inevitable norm for American healthcare.   Along with many others, I have been pitching and preaching this idea for 30 years. Yet if you look at the facts on the ground there are still precious few capitation dollars flowing through the system relative to the dominant model of fee-for-service supported by the high prices paid by self-insured employers, who seem incapable of massifying their firepower to any great effect to change the existing financial hydraulics.

To presume that value value-based care is the inevitable American future is perhaps to bet against history. 

One great hope may be Glen Tullman’s new venture, Transcarent.  Glen seems convinced that a critical mass of employers will provide full at-risk dollars to build end to end care solutions for a wide range of health conditions beyond the care of pre-diabetics.  Currently most of the more activated self-insured employers I know are swamped with a dizzying menu of disconnected point solutions.  Let’s hope Glen is right and we start to see broad, large scale, at-risk offerings being embraced by major employers across the country.

Where value-based reimbursement models are a more realistic assumption is in public programs especially Medicare Advantage, Managed Medicaid and programs for Dual Eligibles.  But even there we see health plans hoarding risk perhaps because they feel they have the tools and technologies to manage care without delegating to new (or even old) at-risk models of care.

There are some obvious bright lights in value-based care for public programs from Iora to Oak Street Health to City Block.  We wish them all well and hope they scale rapidly with the financial fuel they have taken on board.

Assumption 2: Pandemic Effect on Digital Health is Massive and Permanent 

It is undeniable that because of Covid there was a rapid, massive digital shift that occurred temporarily to enable the continued functioning of hospitals and health systems across the country.  But to assume that that shift is somehow both massive and permanent belies the experience we are seeing of the reactivation of in person care.  While I do believe that we have learned many lessons, and that digital health is certainly not going away, the evidence on the ground again is that we are seeing a return to some kind of normalcy and reactivation of in-person care across the care spectrum.  (Behavioral health services being the stellar positive outlier where the shift to digital seems both massive and permanent).

Some of this bounce back in physical care is inevitable because surgery and other forms of intervention require the physical proximity of the patient and not everything can be done with an iPhone or at home (although you can bring a care team to the home, even ICU level care and monitoring, more of which below).  

But I have always argued that the challenge for digital health is not to simply “pave the cowpath” in other words simply automating existing processes or virtualizing visits or moving the same activities to the home.  What is needed is a fundamental redesign of all clinical care processes to be more digital in their mix and to use appropriate digital tools and technologies to amplify the efficiency of caring for patients, prevent disease and motivate constructive behavior change and improve overall patient, member and consumer experience.

Assumption 3:  Primary Care and Prevention Eliminates Tertiary Care

An assumption I heard over and over again is the primary care done right, and better prevention and behavior modification would in and of itself inevitably lead to a reduction or elimination of all or most utilization of complex downstream medical care.   One young CEO with a high net worth and a perfect head of hair went so far as saying that 80% of all care would be digital to which I muttered “bullshit”.

As the 70 plus years of experience of Kaiser Permanente has shown, even when you are relentless in pursuit of preventive measures using digital platforms and an aligned at-risk business model intent on keeping people out of the hospital, you are not going to entirely eliminate morbidity and disease burden that requires more complex interventions.

A related phenomenon is the fallacy of composition which is because I saved 20% on the care of the diabetic or prediabetic population I was accountable for, are those savings permanent and systemic across the system.   As my old mentor Bob Evans taught us you must look at the countervailing action by the providers whose care (and incomes) were eliminated to really fully understand whether or not you had a systemic effect on total costs.  Rajeev Singh CEO of Accolade talked about the “leaky bucket problem”, the difficulty of attributing true savings of multiple interventions and possible double counting of savings.  I have worried for a long time that the cost of the sum of the point solutions exceeds the previous costs baseline.  Most health systems around the world utilize what I term Balloon in a Box policy solutions.  They recognize that pushing on one part of the healthcare balloon may cause it to pop out somewhere else, so instead they put the healthcare balloon in a box, and they sit on the box.  Global budgeting from the top-down works. Competition from end-to-end at risk solutions in an open ended healthcare system where providers are free to respond creatively to being economically disrupted is yet unproven as national policy.

All this may explain why we are seeing all of these companies claiming 20% savings and yet total health-care costs keep continue to rise.   Part of this is supplier induced demand.   As one wag put it: “good health is a state of incomplete diagnosis”.   If you look hard enough you can find stuff to operate on.   Another much more troubling problem is that even well-intentioned preventive efforts such as on-site wellness programs have shown remarkably little ability to reduce total cost of care or improve health endpoints when properly accounted for in well- designed systematic double-blind trials.  I call it “faith-based wellness”, it ought to work it just doesn’t. 

Assumption 4:  Technology is a Force for Good

A theme that ran through most of the presentation is that technology will triumph over all obstacles, and, even further, that technology is somehow imbued with a moral authority superior to the motives of the current incumbent actors.  My doctoral dissertation challenged technological determinism and I have been a curmudgeon and skeptic ever since. Technology is powerful, it is an amplifier, it is a tool, but it doesn’t have a conscience.   It isn’t a force for good, or evil for that matter.  It can be used by people to do a lot of different things.   Just as Facebook enabled the Arab Spring, it also enabled the election of Donald Trump and more recently, the disinformation campaign that systematically undermined science and expertise that led us to vaccine hesitancy.  I am always leery when my venture capitalist friends and entrepreneurs claim that technology will solve everything.   It depends on the decisions, actions and behavior of individuals and organizations particularly those with economic and political power. 

Almost all of these young entrepreneurs had highfalutin mission statements, but they are privately funded enterprises whose primary duty is to their shareholders and investors. They are therefore unlike most of the not-for-profit organizations that dominate the healthcare delivery landscape and that have a broader mission to serve the community.  It was instructive that Pauline Lapin, leader of the Seamless Care Models Group from CMMI pointed to the vigilance that the Biden Administration will have in judging issues such as health equity and questioning who profits and benefits financially from new models of care.

Assumption 5:  Incumbents are Losers

A theme through the conference (perhaps deliberate) is that incumbents are stupid, bloated losers who deserve to be displaced. (Some presenter CEOs didn’t go down this road recognizing that the stupid, bloated, losers were their customers).  

Look I’ve made a living tweaking the noses of the incumbents for 40 years, and I’m reasonably good at it, but in the final analysis you have to really be out of your mind to believe that we are not as a society going to need care delivered that is complex, requiring multiple professionals being coordinated in the same place, and requiring unbelievable amounts of capital and labor to deliver very complex procedures.  We need to honor and support the people and institutions that do this, not gleefully drive them out of business. 

As an illustration, one reason my wife and I didn’t go on vacation to Paris last week was because I was recovering from surgery at Stanford having had a massive volvulus (look it up) removed.  I had 4 feet of twisted, bloated colon removed surgically and repaired through a small 4 inch incision in my belly.  Try doing that at home on a freaking iPhone.

In a week, I’ve enjoyed a spectacular recovery, a return to normalcy and feel that I got my life back.   I am deeply grateful to Stanford, my surgeon, and all the care team.  I received exemplary care with incredible professionalism and compassion. 

My GI workup was at the Palo Alto Clinic (PAMF) which is a Sutter facility and and even though they are old strategic rivals, my care was coordinated, I had full access to the much-maligned Epic system and the apps on my phone, in both institutions.  They could access each other’s chart on me. And even though I am a boring old fee-for-service Medicare patient, my physicians at both PAMF and Stanford were completely responsive over online messaging and Open Notes through Epic.  Both institutions were flexible and able to adjust workflows and schedules for CT scans, sigmoidoscopies, x-rays, diagnostic tests and so forth.  Nothing was unnecessarily duplicated.  Professionalism and compassion triumphed over incentives.

So, given my long history working with incumbents and my most recent experience, I found myself throughout the conference bristling at the derision with which most presenters treated existing incumbent health systems.   If the quality of your life has been saved and a return to normalcy achieved by surgical genius, you’re a little bit less picky about the net promoter score the institution may have for its website or that they are using an I-Phone 5 with old code as their mobile care platform.

Assumption 6:  We are Not a Health Company we are a Tech Company

It became a bit of a cliché at the meeting….we are not a health services company we are a tech company.  You can understand why:  valuations are higher, multiples are higher, scalability of cloud computing and SaaS …yadda, yadda, yadda. Of course, you want to be Netflix not Blockbuster.  Clicks not bricks and so on.  But it is very difficult to build healthcare business at scale in pure technology form without all the attendant economics of service businesses. 

It took the great Lisa Suennen @venturevalkyrie on the fourth day of the conference to call the bluff on the conceit that health services businesses with a digital backbone want to call themselves technology companies.

She responded: “I call myself tall.”  (Spoiler alert, she’s not).  Genius.

Eventually these businesses will be judged as all businesses are on growth, profitability, customer satisfaction and contribution.    

What Did I Learn?

What did I learn?  There were a number of very helpful perspectives to be gained from digesting the full content of the conference.

First, there are many very promising innovations enabling a digital front door to health with primary care/ virtual health and behavior modification tied to dedicated at risk payment models.  These models show great potential to emulate the essence of Kaiser and the capitated medical groups of Southern California in the 1990s. I applaud and have applauded such efforts for 30 years…….so let’s grow them.

Second, is the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning as an amplifier and productivity enhancer in healthcare within clinical decision-making, in consumer outreach and behavior modification and perhaps most importantly in internal administrative simplification. American healthcare is the most Byzantine administrative system in the world, with armies of people faxing things to each other.  But by the same token these are good jobs with good wages as healthcare is the last unionized industry in America.  Companies like Olive and others are building solutions for hospitals to dramatically improve their technology stack for administrative functions.

A third promising insight is the recognition that care can happen anywhere, anytime and anyplace especially enabled by mobile digital technology.  The home is rapidly becoming the clinical setting of the future with all the logistic, technology, infrastructure and inequity challenges that creates.  We should welcome home based care options particularly that allow us seniors to safely age in place.

A fourth insight is that mental health must be integrated with physical health into seamless offerings.  For too long we have had policy, reimbursement and delivery siloed approaches to mental health with the related dearth of meaningful improvement in health outcomes.

Fifth there is the need to liberate patient data and eliminate all the legal and organizational barriers to utilizing the data. In the words of the ever-eloquent Jonathan Bush, consumers will demand their data be made available:

“Bitches, give me my shit”

Sixth, there was a lot of talk about new platforms being built including Jonathan Bush’s Zus vision off providing plug and play repeatable module offerings to enable all the companies in the startup ecosystem to rapidly deploy similar solutions such as patient registration.   This platform talk is consistent with the grand vision that was eloquently described by venture capitalist Julie Yoo who presented a cogent alternate vision of how new platforms could be enabled for the emerging healthcare ecosystem.

Seventh, I was heartened to see presentations from regulators and government officials on the program from CMMI, ONC and FDA all of whom were very thoughtful in encouraging all forms of digital innovation and showed willingness to work with the emerging forces in the industry to meet policy goals.  They will rightly focus on health equity and seem committed to encouraging creative and innovative approaches through both payment reform and regulatory changes. 

And finally, I was struck by the time clock of change between tech and healthcare.  The two year sell cycle of approaching incumbent health systems versus selling Viagra direct to millennials on the web.  Part of the reason that Jonathon Bush’s Zus can succeed is satisfying tech and investors need for speed.  “Just get the crazy people.”

Overall, I was encouraged by the conference that we have a lot of very smart people armed with a lot of private investment aimed at doing important things to improve the healthcare experience for American consumers, and hopefully for providers. 

Some of the companies had lofty ambitions that are unlikely be realized.  Some worthy players and toolmakers will be absorbed into larger more aggregated offerings.   And some will be bought by United Healthcare.

But I do believe we may see the emergence of a few successful platform plays combining the elements described throughout the conference.

The final thing I strongly believe is that the greatest value to be extracted from the digital health ecosystem, enough with the disruption, people, let’s try and harness the power of these technologies to make sophisticated medical institutions like Mayo, Stanford, UCSF and Cedars as well as community-based systems of care stronger, higher performing, efficient and responsive to the communities they serve.

Health Systems Made A Big Difference In The COVID Fight: Time To Reconsider Their Social Impact

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

This Health Affairs Blog post describes some of the ways in which health systems, particularly larger systems, have effectively addressed COVID’s challenges.

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20210308.673278/full/

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20210308.673278/full/

Key Lessons Learned for the Healthcare Industry with Governor Mike Leavitt, Andrew Croshaw, and Ian Morrison

Friday, December 18th, 2020

In this Leavitt Partners Future Frame Series you will hear Governor Mike Leavitt, Andrew Croshaw, and healthcare futurist, Ian Morrison, discuss lessons learned in 2020 and the on-going implications for the healthcare industry in 2021.

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/leavitt-partners_leavitt-partners-future-frame-series-hear-activity-6745372376290074624-aXjZ

The future of employer sponsored insurance, a conversation with Health Evolution

Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

In this webinar, Ian Morrison hosted Health Evolution’s virtual gathering, The Future of Employer Sponsored Health Insurance: Implications for Healthcare Stakeholders with Elizabeth Mitchell, CEO, Pacific Business Group on Health and Barry Arbuckle, President & CEO, MemorialCare Health System.  

AHP Post Election Symposium: Day 2

Friday, November 20th, 2020

In this fireside chat, Ian Morrison explored broad trends for the health care sector in the next year and beyond.

American Physicians Group Podcast with Don Crane

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

What does our healthcare system look like post-COVID? How is healthcare innovating to meet the many challenges? How will this pandemic impact the value-based care movement? APG President and CEO, Don Crane, talks frankly with Ian Morrison, author, futurist, internationally known consultant and speaker specializing in the future of healthcare and the changing business environment. Morrison gives his insight about the changes and challenges ahead for employer-sponsored commercial insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.

THCB Gang 26, September 24th

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

Joining Matthew Holt were some of our regulars: health futurist Ian Morrison (@seccurve), patient advocate Grace Cordovano (@GraceCordovano), patient & entrepreneur Robin Farmanfarmaian (@Robinff3), health care consultant Daniel O’Neill (@dp_oneill), and patient safety expert Michael Millenson (@MLMillenson). The conversation revolved around the dismantling of the ACA, conservatives causing chaos in the government, the dismissal of pre-existing conditions, and the state of women’s health rights after the passing of RBG. It was both an emotional & impactful conversation.

THCB Gang 23, August 27th

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Joining Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) today are some of our regulars: health futurist Ian Morrison (@seccurve), WTF Health Host Jessica DaMassa (@jessdamassa), health care consultant Daniel O’Neill (@dp_oneill), and a few more! The conversation will revolve around the recent investments & growth in health tech, new policies around clinics & centers around COVID19, and more!

THCB Gang 19, July 23rd

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

This episode of the THCB Gang included regulars Grace Cordavano (@GraceCordovano) , Deven McGraw (@HealthPrivacy), Ian Morrison (@seccurve), and special guest patient entrepreneur Robin Farmanfarmaian (@Robinff3). We talked about patient experiences, the state of play in health care business, and about new technologies and more.