4 Takeaways from Aspen Ideas: Health Conference

4 Takeaways from Aspen Ideas: Health Conference. Speakers sitting on stage at the Aspen Ideas: Health Conference.

Access to care, sustainability and care delivery challenges have rocked the health care landscape, but evolving technological and research advances show promise in reshaping the field.

More than 1,000 health care leaders and change-makers convened last week at Aspen Ideas: Health, part of the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas Festival, to explore health care’s biggest challenges and debate possible solutions. An AHA panel discussion, “Deliver Care Anywhere: Rewriting the Site of Care Playbook,” explored how health systems are pairing their expertise in care delivery with consumer-oriented practices.

4 Changes Expected for Providers

1 | Going green in health sector gets greater attention.

Approximately 8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions originate in the health sector. Health leaders described practical, cost-effective actions with dramatic payoffs, including designing green surgical suites that limit the use of anesthetics with high carbon footprints, reducing building emissions, reconfiguring transportation and supply chains and curbing single-use plastics.

Seema Gandhi, M.D., an anesthesiologist and medical director of sustainability at UCSF Health, explained how she engaged colleagues to eliminate desflurane, an anesthetic gas with the highest global warming potential.

“In the U.S., we use the most expensive anesthesia gas [desflurane] and we use it at a much higher volume [than in other countries],” she said. Gandhi helped implement a clinical decision-support tool for the adoption of low-flow anesthesia practices to decrease direct emissions of greenhouse gases from the operating room, saving $300,000 in its first year.

2 | Providers need to be more consumer-responsive.

The rapid rise of retail health has introduced a convenient, affordable and personalized consumer-oriented journey that hospitals are struggling to match, said Tina Freeze Decker, past chair of Michigan Health & Hospital Association and president and CEO of Corewell Health. She spoke during an AHA-convened panel moderated by AHA Board Chair John Haupert, president and CEO of Grady Health System, on how consumer-driven care is redefining health care.

“Disruptors have a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo,” Decker said, noting that retailers outperform traditional providers in collecting and understanding data, building patient loyalty and making billing transparent. “Retailers put their pricing on their walls. It’s easy to understand.”

Retailers are focused on transactional relationships and niche solutions with limited expertise in the continuum of care, which offers opportunities for traditional providers. “We do a much better job in care outcomes,” she added. “We still have a lot more trust from consumers and we need to keep that trust.”

“Do we partner with them? Do we build our own? Or do we buy them?” asked Terika Richardson, CEO of Ardent Health Services. “We need to disrupt ourselves to provide patients the same ease of use they get in other areas of their lives.”

“We’ve got our core business down tight,” said J. Stephen Jones, M.D., president and CEO of Inova Health System. “We provide excellent clinical care. What we don’t do is make it easy.”

3 | Reversible gene editing moves closer to reality.

Developments in reversible gene editing technologies promise to “make genetic alterations reversible and temporary,” according to Renee Wegrzyn, director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, which was created by Congress in 2022 to improve the U.S. government’s ability to speed biomedical and health research.

“Reversible gene edits allow us to explore potential solutions before or even instead of permanently altering a patient’s genetic code,” said Wegrzyn. “For any gene, there are so many different sequences that can be considered healthy, making it difficult to select just one for gene replacement without predicting its effects. We should approach these genetic conditions with personalized strategies. Think of trying on new genes like trying on a pair of jeans.”

No therapies that use this approach are approved yet. But that could soon change. In 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering its first approval decision for a CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene therapy that can target and modify specific DNA sequences.

4 | The need for women’s health investment grows.

Historically, women have been underrepresented in the medical research pipeline. Only about 4% of overall funding for research and development and 1% of total venture capital health care funding goes to products and services specifically addressing women’s health care. As a result, investors increasingly are mining femtech (technology and products that meet women’s health needs) for untapped market opportunities.

Maria Velissaris, managing partner of SteelSky Ventures LLC, a venture capital fund focused on women’s health care and health equity, highlighted two new women-focused ventures: Origin, a game-changing pelvic floor physical therapy platform; and Raydiant Oximetry’s fetal heart monitor — now in FDA trials — designed to reduce the 300,000 unnecessary emergency C-sections performed annually because of less reliable technology.

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