Lately, I have become more reflective about my healthcare career and my hopes for the future than ever before. I attribute this increase in self-reflection to personal and professional reasons. Now that my wife and I are grandparents, that certainly puts things into a different perspective. Also, I recently celebrated my 30 years on the faculty at Jefferson University, which is surely a special milestone that will likely not be repeated in the much more hurly-burly, disruptive future of our industry.
I also find that one of my favorite Harry Chapin songs, “All My Life’s a Circle,” is often playing in my head. With all this as “background music,” I was compelled to attend the 2020 annual Wharton Health Care Business Conference, which is run exclusively by students and is now in its 26th iteration. This year’s event was titled “New Frontiers in Health Care.” It is worth reflecting on what I learned from the students and the presenters. I will not summarize the entire 1.5-day program, but it is appropriate to note that this is an exclusively student-organized and highly polished annual program. The students attract an amazing group of national leaders and raise all the funds necessary to put on a truly first-rate program.
The conference’s opening panel discussion was very well done. The presenters included Corbin Petro, MBA, CEO and Co-Founder of Eleanor Health; Mike Pykosz, JD, CEO and Co-Founder of Oak Street Health; and Iyah Romm, CEO and Co-Founder of Cityblock Health. These 3 young, energized CEOs were joined on stage by the conference moderator, Tina Reed, Executive Editor at FierceHealthcare, as the opening act for this student-run event. The positive vibrations given off by these 3 young leaders were palpable, and the audience resonated with their enthusiasm and their compelling personal stories.
As was described in the conference brochure, Eleanor Health is a “comprehensive, evidenced-based outpatient services platform for opioid and other substance use disorders. Eleanor Health is rethinking addiction by fully treating it as a chronic disease, focusing on clinical and non-clinical factors and providing both human and high-tech support, including medication assisted treatment.”1
In her presentation, Ms Petro was emphatic in noting that Eleanor Health treats people with substance use disorders as “real people.” A good deal of her time is devoted to imparting a high level of empathy in her team to enable them to treat such persons with the dignity that they may not find in other settings. She attributed the success of Eleanor Health—for which Ms Petro was recognized in 2018 as an “up and comer” by Modern Healthcare2—to this high level of empathy exhibited by the company. The largely millennial-age audience was collectively nodding their heads in agreement with virtually every sentence she uttered.
Oak Street Health, according to the conference brochure, “is a network of primary care centers that delivers value-based care to adults on Medicare. Under Mike’s [Pykosz] leadership, Oak Street Health is rebuilding health care as it should be. His strategic guidance has enabled the organizations rapid growth to more than 50 centers across seven states since its founding in 2012.”1
Oak Street Health is one of several new equity-backed primary care practices that collectively have begun to transform how the marketplace is delivering services to the Medicare population in the ambulatory setting. Along with companies such as Iora Health, AbsoluteCARE, and ChenMed, Oak Street Health has a holistic approach to these patients, by creating a truly team-based environment that is focused on what has been termed “social determinants of health.”
I have had the real pleasure of interacting with Mr Pykosz on many occasions, and like Ms Petro, he exudes a combination of a young CEO confidence and self-deprecation. As a nonclinician, Mr Pykosz explained to the conference young attendees that tinkering around the edges to improve primary care simply would not work, and that a completely new team-based model that draws on the skill sets of people such as case managers, behavioral health experts, nutritionists, and others is the cornerstone of medical practice for the future. Again, the primarily student-filled audience largely nodded in collective agreement.
Cityblock Health, as described in the conference brochure, is “the first tech-driven provider for communities with complex needs. By scaling primary care, behavioral health, and social services with custom-built technology, Cityblock is bringing better care to neighborhoods that have historically had poor access to quality, affordable health care.”1
Iyah Romm described Cityblock Health as “empathy married to technology,” characterized by a clinical practice focusing on the flow of data and absolute patient-centeredness. Mr Romm said all the right things about an environment of tenacity, candor, and trust that are needed to build, in his words, a “collaborative practice with patients” who are largely denizens of poor and neglected neighborhoods, mostly in New York City.
Mr Romm added that our current healthcare system places the wrong person—the doctor—at its center, noting that there is no known silver bullet that will cure what ails our healthcare system. He emphasized a culture that works hard to build trust with patients who may be very distrustful of the typical clinic environment in which many of them have received care in the past.
Taken together, Eleanor Health, Oak Street Health, and Cityblock Health presented a new platform for the future. I found myself nodding in agreement with the millennial audience, and I chuckled as a result! For me, with my many years of experience in the healthcare industry, to resonate with yet another panel discussion, something special must have been happening. I attribute my reaction here to the youthful idealism of the presenters and to a very refreshing dose of faith in the future.
The next morning’s plenary presentation featured one of my favorite leaders in healthcare—Bruce D. Broussard, President and CEO of Humana—in a fireside chat with Bradley Fluegel, MPP, Principal, BMF Advisors. Mr Broussard joined Humana in 2011, during my tenure as a Humana board member. When Mr Broussard spoke, he exuded confidence in Humana’s mission, saying that, “Under his leadership, Humana has created an integrated care delivery model centered on improving health outcomes, driving lower costs, enhancing quality, and providing a simple and personalized member experience. With its holistic approach, Humana is dedicated to improving the health of the communities it serves by making it easy for people to achieve their best health.”3
Mr Broussard looks like a CEO from Hollywood central casting; what I found so compelling about his presentation in front of mostly young students was his ability to so humbly connect with an audience nearly half his age. He focused the fireside chat on Medicare Advantage, and described it as a public–private partnership. Mr Broussard emphasized this partnership as a great example of a for-profit insurance company working with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the largest US insurer, to produce good health for the millions of Medicare beneficiaries. The strategy of a long-term holistic relationship with these senior citizen beneficiaries, and the ability to organize large amounts of data and deliver care in a personalized manner for millions of patients is part of Humana’s “secret sauce,” he noted.
Mr Broussard also described Humana’s current partnerships with technology giant companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and others, which the students found very appealing and compelling connections, having grown up with these companies (that, of course, did not exist when I attended Wharton nearly 40 years ago).
An adage that is attributed to George Bernard Shaw (and other famous writers after him) is “youth is wasted on the young.” I certainly understand what Mr Shaw was getting at, but as far as the Wharton Health Care Business Conference goes, the idealism of youth was in full bloom during that meeting. I was energized by returning to this annual event and seeing the future in front of me. I hope I am around to attend the next decade’s worth of Wharton Health Care’s conferences and to get another dose of youthful idealism, which I am sure has salutatory qualities and may even extend my life!
- Wharton Health Care. 26th Annual Wharton Health Care Business Conference speakers & sessions: CEO roundtable. www.whcbc.org/conf2020/speakers-sessions/ceo-roundtable/. Accessed June 16, 2020.
- Modern Healthcare. Up & comers-2018. www.modernhealthcare.com/awards/up-comers-2018. Accessed June 16, 2020.
- Wharton Health Care. 26th Annual Wharton Health Care Business Conference speakers & sessions: keynotes. www.whcbc.org/conf2020/speakers-sessions/keynotes/. Accessed June 16, 2020.