JPM 2019: Where digital health urgency was only matched by digital health complexity

Amy Dirks Stevens

Not everyone in healthcare goes to the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference … it just seems that way. Between the seemingly endless parade of conference summaries and reports of a meeting space shortage so severe that it forced some extreme solutions, it begs the question: What is there left to say?

It’s why I’ve taken a few days to gather my thoughts and share observations of things seen and heard outside the core conference. In conversations with health systems, solution companies, partners, investors, and friends, what stood tall as some of the “unofficial” and perhaps more enduring themes from JPM 2019?

Here’s a sampling:

Disruption Accelerates Decisions

The dozens of health systems we spoke with have a combination of excitement, fear, and uncertainty around how digital disruption will take shape in healthcare. And as a result, many of them are showing a growing willingness to require less data and due diligence prior to solution selection and implementation than they had historically. Especially for digitally enabled capabilities like online scheduling—which have become table stakes for much of the industry—the time for lengthy debate and ROI analysis has passed. Health systems find themselves pressured by market forces to move forward even in the absence of fully formed, individual business cases.

At the same time, many early stage startups are still failing to build their own business cases around realistic ROI. Instead, we see entrepreneurs solving “personal problems” (e.g., my mother’s care was compromised because X, and therefore, I think the industry as a whole should just do Z for the good of patients, communities, etc.).

This confluence of pressure for accelerated decision-making, plus market entrants that have strong stories but not strong metrics, has potential to create a storm of confusion for health systems. Especially as health systems continue to be challenged to convince their C-suites to move at the pace and scale of disruptors like Amazon or Google, they must find the right balance of accelerated and informed decision-making to stay ahead of external disruption without crashing their own innovation efforts.

Platforms vs. Products vs. Personal Preferences

Increasingly, many health systems are shifting their thinking about digitally enabled capabilities to platforms rather than individual products. They see more value in having data flow between applications … applications that feed insights to each other … a single user experience vs. a “there’s an app for that” approach. The challenge is selling clinicians on the value of efficiency over the value of individuality. Urologists want something purpose-built for urology, not something that’s specialty-agnostic and requires countless hours of customizations and work-arounds to fit their clinical and operational workflow.

Adding to the noise is the number of startups becoming MORE specific in the problems they solve without clear paths toward interoperability. Health systems are forced to choose: select potentially best-of-breed solutions that guard against specific disruptive threats …  or broader platforms that give them a cleaner path toward a more manageable ecosystem.

Perhaps even more concerning for health systems is the growing onslaught of direct-to-consumer apps, wearable devices, and other technologies that go to the heart of personal preference and consumer experience. So even as health systems consider their own digital strategy and tech stack, they must also plan for where their place lies in the value chain of consumer-purchased health technology. Without such a plan, they risk being circumvented altogether–regardless of whether their digital strategy had taken a platform or product-focused approach.

Primary Care Can’t Become Secondary Focus

Much of healthcare still funnels through primary care. It serves as health systems’ gateway to core upstream and downstream services and revenue—diagnostics, procedures, admissions, etc. And over and over, we heard that technologies need to be deployed, used by, or prescribed by PCPs.

But primary care offices can’t have 37 different technologies to manage on top of multiple EMRs, reimbursement applications, credentialing, state oversight. The end-user experience of physicians, nurses, and operational staff demands focus before these professionals decide that enough is enough and seek other opportunities. In the near future, another opportunity might take the form of doctors becoming like Uber drivers—recruited directly to offer up X number of same-day or telehealth appointments. Suddenly they have their supply side needs covered without ever having to own a physician practice or sign a contract with a health system or major physician group. Suddenly, the health system’s path to patient acquisition, growth, and loyalty gets turned on its head.


These are just three big, connected themes I heard again and again during AVIA’s time at JPM. There’s more, of course. Lot’s more: privacy, migration to the cloud, price transparency, aligned incentives. What piqued your interest? What stood out to you?