STAT Health Tech Summit 2021: Five takeaways you need to know

by Bronwyn Hemus, Sidekick's Senior Content Editor
6 minute read

And just like that, the STAT Health Tech Summit 2021 is over.

For two days, industry experts and innovators working at the intersection of tech and healthcare came together to talk about how digital healthcare has risen to the enormous challenges presented by COVID-19, and where digital healthcare is headed next.

“The healthcare industry is at a tipping point, upended by this global pandemic. We have seen a rapid acceleration in digital health behaviors for doctors and patients. To propel our industry forward, it is clear we all need to foster a digital-first mindset, and build communities that nurture these new behaviors.” Jo Ann Saitta, Real Chemistry

Whatever part of the healthcare industry you look at, it’s clear that connected ecosystems and devices have been vital in maintaining standards of care, saving precious resources, and driving efficiencies.
With so much discussion around the opportunities and challenges of digital health, here are five key #STATHealthTech takeaways you should know.

1. The pandemic has accelerated digital development

With participants and attendees largely watching the Summit from their homes, it’s little wonder why the impact of the pandemic on health technology was a recurring discussion point.

“What I love about technology is the ability to scale … but what health IT offers is the opportunity to make an impact at mass,” said Geeta Nayyar, General Manager of Healthcare and Life Sciences and Executive Medical Director, Salesforce.

With coronavirus restrictions limiting patient access to clinicians, and spiraling numbers of critically ill patients requiring doctors to do more with less, the impact and possibility presented by medical technology is hard to ignore.
As Amazon’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Vin Gupta, pointed out, primary care was already heading towards people’s homes before the pandemic, but now “behaviors are changing. People are going to want to consume more of their healthcare … not in brick-and-mortar settings.”

2. Digital health leaves no one behind

A digital divide between those who can afford smartphones and those who can’t is an inherent challenge that digital health innovators need to consider. Health tech start-up, Cityblock Health, has tackled this challenge head-on and has created a platform that caters to the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society.

“When we think what we saw during the COVID pandemic, and the broad … lack of access to healthcare that so many people experienced, particularly lower-income people, access to digital health is a basic kind of survival need at this stage,” said Toyin Ajayi, Co-Founder and Chief Health Officer, Cityblock Health.

Ajayi, thinks of technology as “an enabler of a model of care as opposed to the solution in and of itself.” Cityblock Health is using technology to meet people where they are, whether it be through SMS, video calls, Snapchat … whatever it takes.
By understanding customer needs, digital health companies can take away the friction and create a digital experience that is truly personal, and which has the greatest impact.

3. There is plenty of room for everyone at the table

Tailoring healthcare to suit people’s individual needs also extends to online pharmacies, where companies are embracing digital health tools, in a variety of aspects, to advance how patients take medications, and deliver new support resources to all sectors of society.
Folx Health is a digital healthcare service provider specifically designed to provide customized medical plans for the LGBTQIA+ community. It offers hormone therapy packages, ED, PReP, STI testing, and an online medical database with questions answered by queer-affirming medical providers across America.

“Access to great healthcare, access to a healthcare experience that’s beautiful, that celebrates you, that’s pleasurable, there’s no reason we can’t do that, other than just imagination,” says A.G. Breitenstein, the CEO and co-founder of Folx Health.

While Folx Health is focused on a sub-sector of the population, Amazon’s recent move into pharmacy has the potential to overhaul how people buy and consume their medicine. Transparency is a key component of Amazon’s strategy as consumers now have a price comparison tool for medications.

“Usually, the customer shows up at the (pharmacy) counter, they have no idea what it’s going to cost until they get there,” says TJ Parker, Amazon’s Vice-President of Pharmacy.

4. Machine learning will augment healthcare

Patient care is at the heart of healthcare’s ongoing digital transformation, and machine learning will play an integral role in improving diagnosis, efficiency, and patient outcomes.

“The driving force of everything we’re doing is the patient and patient care, and in my own personal career, one of the things that has been a constant factor has been trying to make the care for patients, the decisions that are taken on their care, the absolute best they can be. No matter where that patient is and when they’re seeking care. That’s the great promise of machine learning in healthcare,” said Alan Karthikesalingam, Research Lead at Google Health UK.

On the spectrum of how these machine learning tools can collaborate with and support clinicians, there are the more simple things like prioritization and patient experience, and then there are more detailed implementations.
In this context, Karthikesalingam references dual-reader workflows where an AI system can act as a second reader when multiple clinicians are required to read mammograms, for example, for a particular patient. “If a machine learning system can act as one of those readers that could really improve the quality of care potentially for millions of people.”

5. There are opportunities for new business models in digital health technology

Digital healthcare funding accelerated during the pandemic and this trend shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

“We are really at the precipice of what I believe is an ever-increasing market opportunity, and we believe there are billions of dollars of value to be generated and, importantly, billions of lives to be made healthier and better. We’re really getting started.” Deena Shakir, Partner, Lux Capital.

Wide and rapid adoption of remote care is the biggest outcome of the COVID crisis, and investors are now seeing a clear return profile on investments in the healthcare space. The result? Investors are pouring money into digital healthcare solutions, with venture funding roughly doubling in 2020.
Annie Lamont, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Oak HC/FT said there’s huge potential for technologies that can address cost and risk. The majority of health costs stem from primary care, Lamont said, creating a massive need for tools that can help those physicians make decisions that both limit patients’ risk and avoid the extraneous costs of unnecessary procedures.

That’s a wrap

The pandemic has exposed healthcare systems’ vulnerabilities and triggered rapid changes in value chains. It has become apparent that what can be done remotely, should be done remotely. This, according to the STAT Health Summit speakers, is an important spark that will lead to more personalized and automated healthcare solutions and deep reconstruction of the healthcare systems that used to be analogue to the core.