Every year in early January, Union Square in San Francisco transforms from a shopping mecca to a (usually rainy) gathering of leadership teams from payers, large providers, life sciences companies and tech companies across the globe. The visual is dramatic: You’ll never see as many dark suits in San Francisco than when you’re wandering around town during the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference.
As with other big conferences, there are more parties and networking opportunities than a single person can attend. In the case of JPM, these events occur in the stores, galleries and restaurants of Union Square and San Francisco. Imagine a scene in which the movers and shakers of the health industry gather in a Williams-Sonoma to discuss their strategic priorities for the year, wine in hand.
So what were the hot topics? We all have some selection bias, but this is what I observed:
- Software is top of mind in all sectors.
- Data science, in particular, is top of mind, and there was a truly concerted effort to focus on solutions versus the term “artificial intelligence.”
- Issues that used to be invisible are coming to the forefront (such as substance abuse, social services and nutrition).
- Provider consolidation is erasing barriers to medical information-sharing, paving the way for real results in population health management and real-world evidence.
As a software industry professional, I’m pleased to report that I heard a lot about software. Big Pharma certainly has its guard up after Roche acquired Flat Iron’s platform for managing real-world evidence in oncology. Several of the investors I spoke with are looking for their own platform or partners in this space. One investor remarked that her JPM calendar had completely transformed from drug companies to data science companies.
Financing and distribution solutions were hot as well. At a gathering of investors, Shanghai Meditrust, a Chinese drug-shopping site with an integrated financing solution, was the darling of the event. Clearly, value-based pricing and beyond-the-pill solutions are top of mind for pharma.
I was also pleased to see so many companies focusing on “invisible” issues. Companies of all sizes focused on mental health, substance abuse and tricky psycho-social issues like care logistics. During his presentation on his company’s mental health strategy, Bill Carson, president and CEO of Otsuka Pharmaceutical Development & Commercialization, asked his audience to look—really look—at the homeless people lining the streets of San Francisco to see how pervasive mental health issues are in our lives. To help solve this tough problem in a very focused way, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, launched Cityblock Health, an urban-focused healthcare organization that delivers mental health and social services one city block at a time. Meanwhile, Uber announced Uber Health, a service to help patients get rides to and from care, thoughtfully designed with permissions for the caregiver to call the ride, which is very helpful for elderly patients.
Speaking of Uber, every big tech player was present and part of the JPM fabric this year, from Uber and Lyft to Google and Amazon. These companies are serious players now in health. Google has just announced the addition of (yet another) Geisinger executive, David Feinberg, to consolidate all of its health offerings. Stay tuned for more from Google/Alphabet as it consolidates its B-to-C and B-to-B applications and infrastructure offerings.
The emerging theme from the conference is that we are starting to see real impact as providers consolidate (and barriers to information-sharing come down), the pharma industry looks beyond the pill and payers find ways to manage population health. As we look forward to next year’s conference, I expect (and hope) to see population health solutions and real-world evidence begin to have a real impact on our industry. I also expect to see even more from the big tech players like Google Health and Amazon. And I can predict with 100% confidence that it will be raining.