Innovation & The Internet of Health Care: Karen Ignagni at SVB HealthTech

On September 8, Karen Ignagni, President & CEO, EmblemHealth, joined Vivek Garipalli, CEO, Clover Health, in a fireside chat at the Silicon Valley Bank’s (SVB) HealthTech conference in New York, moderated by Bloomberg News’ Sasha Damouni Ellis. Featuring speakers from Cleveland Clinic, ZocDoc and Johnson & Johnson, SVB HealthTech examined how rapidly-changing technologies — including augmented reality, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and big data — are transforming health care and paving the way for payers, providers and startups to collaborate and innovate.

When asked about the challenges facing health care startups, Ignagni noted that, “when there isn’t a proven track record, newly developed startups have to decide if they’re going to lean in.” As a founding member of Junto Health, a New York-based consortium of health care companies, technologists, entrepreneurs and policymakers, EmblemHealth champions a co-opetition model, working with payers, providers and startups. Ignagni outlined EmblemHealth’s process of conducting three to six month pilots with early stage startups, allowing both parties to manage risk and assess data quality. Garipalli observed that many startups have a culture of iteration, making partnerships a challenge. “It’s hard for startups to make the pitch that [their product] is not going to work great, and that learning needs to happen,” he said.

In an earlier presentation, Sean Lane, CEO of Ohio-based startup Crosschx, described the challenge of building an Internet of Health Care. “Health care doesn’t have an internet, we have a bunch of intranets,” he argued. Echoing these remarks, Jeff Dachis, founder of the Dachis Group and CEO of diabetes management platform One Drop, predicted that “technology is going to eat health care.”

Ignagni framed these challenges as an opportunity for companies like EmblemHealth to innovate. Along with addressing the shortfalls of legacy platforms — the “intranets” that Lane referred to — EmblemHealth’s investments in technology are “giving us assets, agility and scalability,” she said. “We have an obligation to be transparent with consumers. Self-service tools allow us to show consumers that if they choose a certain product or network, this is what their cost will be.” By investing in Epic, an electronic system that stores medical records for more than half of the U.S. patient population, EmblemHealth’s partner AdvantageCare Physicians (ACPNY) has developed self-service technology that enables patients to manage their care.

During his presentation, Dachis recalled how his diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in 2013 sparked the idea for One Drop and has subsequently shaped its development. Similarly, Ignagni’s investment in Epic and other technology has been informed by her own experience as a health care consumer. “As an ACPNY patient, Epic is on my phone through myACPNY at all times, when I need it,” she said, adding that what works for one person, such as a self-service app, may not work for another. “We need to have personalized solutions,” ranging from mobile to social media to in-person support, she concluded.

When asked about other trends and emerging issues in the health care space, Ignagni and Garipalli took a hard line on rising drug prices, citing the recent controversy over Mylan and the cost of EpiPens. “Pharma companies are lucky that they had Martin Shkreli [former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals] as a poster boy, since they were all doing this,” said Garipalli. Ignagni added, “there has been a lot of baiting and switching in the rhetorical positioning around drug pricing, from the EpiPen to Sovaldi. Companies have said that it’s all about research and development. It’s not; it’s about profits. A dose of transparency is needed to inform the public discussion around drug pricing.”

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