3 Takeaways from the HLTH Conference

3 Takeaways from the HLTH Conference. A panel onstage at the HLTH Conference.

Amid the sound bites and substance delivered at the recent HLTH conference, health care leaders, transformers and innovators shared how they plan to reshape care delivery, partner to drive innovation and help consumers get greater access to obesity and diabetes medications along with a greater holistic focus on weight management. Here is what caught our attention.

1 | Transformers will strengthen their direct-to-consumer connections.

Three of the field’s most prominent disruptors — Amazon, CVS Health and Walgreens — provided a deeper look at their health care strategies and plans to execute their direct-to-consumer services. Walgreens said that later this month it will provide virtual care services in nine states to address common health care needs like urgent care, birth control and seasonal allergies. Its goal: to be the most convenient health and wellness destination whether consumers are in its stores or online. The states in the rollout cover nearly half the country and half of Walgreens’ customers. Patients will have access to virtual conversations for $33 out of pocket or with a physician or nurse practitioner via chat or video visit for select conditions for $36 to $75.

CVS Health, meanwhile, believes there is a role for so-called super apps to play in vertical markets like health care and that it is well positioned to provide that, said Sree Chaguturu, M.D., its chief medical officer. A super app is a single application accessible by a mobile device or web browser that is widely adopted by consumers and offers a vast range of services — from social media to e-commerce, wealth management and making health care appointments. CVS sent more than 2 billion text messages to its customers last year and they were more likely to confirm appointments and medication services via text than other communication channels. CVS will continue to evolve its assets in the vein of creating a super app, Chaguturu said.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s One Medical membership-based primary care practice is taking a disciplined approach to growth as it targets the 40% of Americans who don’t have a primary care provider. Neil Lindsay, senior vice president of health services, said One Medical is focused on two primary objectives: making it easier to get care and medications and helping people to stay well. Amazon may consider partnerships with providers of durable medical equipment and outlets that offer healthful food and meals to fulfill its objectives, Lindsay noted.

2 | Provider partnerships are key to driving innovation.

If innovation is going to drive health care forward, partnerships will be the engine that powers progress. Sutter Health officials made that clear while announcing plans for a new innovation center in San Francisco. The center, set to open early next year, will house Sutter’s innovation team and become a collaboration hub for the system’s physicians and colleagues, students and outside tech partners.

Sutter is inviting visionaries who want to make health care “simpler, more engaging and deeply human.” The center will invest and partner with venture firms and early-stage digital startups from the initial idea stage to scale. The system believes its large and geographically diverse patient population of more than 3 million is a microcosm of the nation that will benefit its future partners.

The center also can support other tools the system has developed like Scout by Sutter Health, an app launched in 2021 to support resilience and everyday mental health management for those between ages 13 and 23, and enhance collaboration with its tech partners such as Ferrum Health. Ferrum’s AI-powered platform supports reading radiologists to help identify diseases like cancer in the early stages. Since its launch in 2019, the platform has processed more than 430,000 patient records and found more than 1,850 instances in which pulmonary nodes were missed on the first read.

3 | Disruptors want to expand access to obesity drugs.

The popularity of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonist drugs to help Americans lose weight has seen demand soar. Now, leaders from WeightWatchers and the telehealth company Ro, say they want to ensure that their customers have greater access to these drugs.

Melynda Barnes, M.D., Ro’s chief medical officer of direct-to-consumer health, said Ro wants to bring together employers, payers, the government and providers to find ways to help cover the cost of these medications. Ro began offering GLP-1 medications with its weight-management program in January. Even with shortages of injectable GLP-1 medications like Ozempic, Saxenda and Wegovy, and reducing its advertising, demand for the drugs continues to increase, Barnes noted.

WeightWatchers and Noom, a telehealth weight loss and wellness provider, also said they will be adding GLP-1 prescriptions to their offerings. In March, WeightWatchers acquired weight-loss provider Sequence for $106 million so it could begin offering weight-loss drugs like Ozempic, Trulicity and Wegovy.

But Noom and others suggest that there needs to be a larger focus on holistic weight management rather than simply expanding access to GLP-1 drugs. Noom supports helping patients reduce reliance on medications by only giving drugs to those who most need them after other interventions have been tried.

Many clinicians have voiced similar concerns, citing the easy access to GLP-1 drugs as a key reason they are in such high demand among consumers.

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