by Brian Chapman, Partner and Leader, Medtech Practice, ZS
Addressing patient health equity can feel a whole lot like climate change, an intractable problem that feels so big and broad that any individual is overwhelmed by its scale. Words can feel nice, but they don’t really change anything fundamental. However, I left the AdvaMed MedTech Conference filled with a little more hope than usual.
Moving the needle takes commitment to attack more than just one root cause. It starts with bringing diversity into trials but needs to go further. It requires bringing surgeries closer to underserved populations and opening hospitals and surgery centers near where patients live. It involves expanding programs to ensure that whoever performs the surgery is able to engender trust and comfort. Almost no specialty in medicine is whiter and more male than orthopedic surgery, for example.
Having an impact requires clear metrics to understand what is working and create momentum. We can’t just measure the output or focus on words. We need steps along the journey that show progress as the underlying causes are obviated. How equal are diagnosis rates? How clear is the clinical mandate to treat for all populations or the funding pathways available? How difficult is the journey from home to care for disadvantaged populations? How diverse are the healthcare professionals providing care? After identifying the root causes, we need a set of metrics that we can relentlessly drive to show they are being addressed.
While every life impacted is a win, really making a difference requires scale and sustainability. We can feel good about a mission trip to Sub-Saharan Africa, but merely showing up to treat a few patients with innovative technology and leaving nothing lasting behind is part of the problem and does very little to change the situation. We can recruit broadly for a trial, but other than establishing a baseline of facts, there is no real lasting impact from this effort. Healthcare is local, meaning local infrastructure, training and education are required to establish a lasting and scalable impact.
None of this can be established by industry alone. It requires partnerships among a broad spectrum of players. Seldom can competitors sit on the same stage and advocate together with a single voice, but health equity needs broad industry support. Societies can advocate mandatory screening to ensure the diagnostic pathway is initiated and more people get to the starting line. Licensing and governing bodies can help establish broad access by relaxing constraints on who can practice and how. Technology partnerships can ensure democratic access to care and recovery protocols, without the constraints of distance, and facilitate rapid practitioner upskilling and outcomes equalization. Industry associations and societies need to drive awareness and advocate for access. It takes the whole ecosystem to be accountable and address inequities.
Much in the healthcare system needs to be addressed to move the needle, including policy and reimbursement, but the above imperatives—commitment, defined metrics, purposeful scaling and active partnerships—all sound like the things we do in everyday business. And, in fact, moving patient health equity from a philanthropic dabbling to a systemic solution requires a business mindset. We need to turn to the tools of what we do best in our day-to-day business to address the problem of our times. We need to treat health equity as a business imperative.
I can’t take credit for these observations and impact stories. I need to recognize the efforts of my fellow panelists at The MedTech Conference: Nina Goodheart, Ivan Tornos and Larry Wood, and the organizations they represent, for leading the way with not just their words but also their meaningful actions.