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Spotlight on Innovation at the 2022 Health Evolution Summit

April 2022

Spencer Stuart’s Healthcare Practice recently attended the Health Evolution Summit, an invite-only gathering that brings together influential CEOs and policymakers with a common ambition to shape a better healthcare system.

While the summit was loaded with formal discussions on a range of timely topics, from advancing health equity to the applications of artificial intelligence (AI) to the next era of value-based care, at the core of the experience was the simple opportunity to engage in face-to-face conversation again. The energy and desire for collaboration across all parts of the ecosystem — payer, provider, life sciences, tech — was palpable across the three-day gathering.

It was an inspiring, multi-dimensional experience, and as we soaked in the vibrant engagement, we left the summit with one definite takeaway: progress certainly cannot be accomplished alone. Here’s our take on the big ideas we heard while there, and what they mean for healthcare leaders today.

One of the biggest themes we observed firsthand was the “headiness” in the market — a flurry of activity in terms of investment from outside venture capital and private equity firms, as well as from within the industry itself. Large investment is being poured into next-gen healthcare, with capital infusions abundant to spur innovation.

In tandem, there was a clear eagerness to partner across verticals (payer to provider, for example) and strengthen the entire healthcare ecosystem. We’re seeing increased cross-pollination of leadership across healthcare sub-sectors as fresh senior talent moves into new roles coming in from outside industries and through merger activity. In general, we're seeing more people crossing sectors within the healthcare industry itself, and more receptivity to other industries like financial services, retail and tech that understand how to win over consumers.

The tone of the technology discussion was also far more collaborative than it’s been in recent years: Where there used to be an assumption that Silicon Valley wanted to come in and “fix” healthcare with its solutions, today the attitude is about health tech as an enabling force for change. Far more healthcare companies are also enabling that digital shift from the inside out with their own investment arms.

Amid so much investment and talent mobility, there are always major forces of change. The first one on everyone’s mind was the push toward value-based care and making healthcare more consumer-centric. Healthcare customers have more choices now, and they're exercising them — going with progressive primary care delivery models over traditional medical offices, for instance. There were many ideas about how healthcare companies, which haven’t ever really courted patients as consumers, can create a bond with them — especially consumers who are digitally empowered and emboldened by their options. Putting patients at the center and providing the tools — often technology such as IoT devices and apps — to better manage and control their care means they’re less likely to land in the hospital for acute care episodes. The upside is not only happier customers, but also better outcomes and lowered costs.

Organizations in every part of the healthcare ecosystem are innovating, transforming or optimizing for the future — or a mix of all of three.

Still, one size doesn't fit all. While younger customers take well to digital healthcare options, older generations aren’t always enthusiastic about the change. During the pandemic, a hyper-degree of innovation happened incredibly quickly, not the least of which included the almost wholesale shift to virtual care. But the pendulum is now swinging back. There’s a long tail on both older technology and human habits, and some people who used telehealth during the pandemic are quite happy to see their providers in person again. Catering to all these different needs means healthcare companies need to be able to balance traditional healthcare delivery with innovating for what’s next.

The second major current of change running through the conference was the collective acknowledgment of the sector’s responsibility to better address social determinants of health. Access to care, food security, socioeconomic status, housing, individuals’ social support networks — these are all things that critically impact a person’s health, but aren’t considered “healthcare” in today’s system. It was evident that healthcare companies are eager to help solve these pressing issues, with discussions centered around things like:

  • Taking care of the underserved
  • Getting healthcare to people in rural areas who traditionally haven’t had access
  • The disproportionate effects of climate change on different communities
  • Medical re-adjudication

The higher purpose orientation is strong across healthcare, and it’s part of what’s attracting people to join the sector. Healthcare leaders have undergone a major mindset shift from previous years, with abundant vision and willingness to act around social issues. But the reality of how that will happen remains to be seen, and we expect organizations to be grappling with this for some time.

These twin forces converge in our final observation, which is that organizations in every part of the healthcare ecosystem are innovating, transforming or optimizing for the future — or a mix of all of three. But everyone is headed in the same direction, with a clear blending of healthcare sub-sectors into partnerships between users, buyers and innovators. The pandemic accelerated change overnight, and there is no going back.

The underlying theme of nearly every session was data and the interconnected capabilities of data to drive change across the healthcare continuum: Using technology and data to derive greater insights, get to better health outcomes, ramp up automation, take out wasteful processes and costs, enable a more distributed workforce and, of course, improve the employee and patient experiences. This kind of innovation spurs transformation — of how companies operate internally and engage with their consumers externally — and optimization, as companies test, learn and iterate to find what works best.

Established and new leaders need to build flexible learning cultures that enable their companies to the challenges that are sure to come, including competing for talent

Ultimately, the level of change an organization is experiencing is dependent on where it is on various adoption curves — of post-COVID life, of technology, of the use of partnerships. But one thing is clear: The sector is in constant reinvention.

Out of these trends, we see three critical leadership and workforce implications, all tied to bringing different skill sets and mindsets into healthcare at this post-COVID inflection point. First, organizations need to hire senior talent with strong change leadership capabilities, including soft skills such as flexibility, adaptability, agility, humility and high EQ. Second, established and new leaders need to build flexible learning cultures that enable their companies to the challenges that are sure to come, including competing for talent. Culture is a core enabling factor of any kind of change, and leaders must ensure they're creating the cultural conditions to innovate, transform and optimize from here on out. Finally, as new CEOs take the helm, new partnerships are formed, or entire new organizations are born out of the hot M&A market, senior management teams must be aligned on the future state they’re working toward, and how they’ll get there. Old playbooks no longer work, but it can be challenging to shift entrenched teams to new ways of thinking.

To say there’s a lot on the leadership agenda would be an understatement. But the overarching excitement, commitment and goodwill we observed at the Health Evolution Summit left us inspired as we continue supporting healthcare leadership teams across the ecosystem. Reach out to our healthcare practice for more on maximizing the impact of your individual leaders, culture, and senior teams.