2009 Convergence Conference

I spent this past weekend in Newport RI at Convergence, a small conference for the life sciences industry in New England, although we had attendees from both coasts as well as Europe. The attendees are mostly professionals in biotech and medical technology, but there were a number of sessions of interest to the general public.

In particular, Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charlie Baker and Beth Israel Deaconness CEO Paul Levy participated in a panel discussion titled The Future of the Healthcare System. For those not from around here, Harvard Pilgrim is rated as one of the best healthcare insurance providers in the country, and Beth-Israel-Deaconess as one of the top academic hospitals. This panel was timely given the Obama administration’s focus on reforming healthcare, and that Massachusetts recent reforms in expanding coverage are being looked at as a national model.

Points of interest:
* Charlie Baker noted that advances in healthcare technology i.e. new drugs, diagnostics, and the like will of course increase costs, as they will be used to treat in scenarios where no other treatment is possible. Doing something is by definition more expensive than doing nothing.
* I was previously aware that one of the major economic problems in healthcare is that Medicare and Medicaid reimburse by procedure, not by outcome, so there are incentives for doctors to do procedures (e.g. order more tests) than to spend time more time with patients (which doesn’t generate revenue.) I wasn’t aware that Medicare’s reimbursement rates are actually well below actual costs, so that the private insurance is in effect subsidizing Medicare. Per Charlie Baker, 75% of hospitals in the US would be technically bankrupt if all patients were reimbursed at Medicare rates.
* Massachusetts health care reform really shouldn’t be a model for general reform of the US healthcare system. The goal of the Massachusetts program was to increase health insurance coverage from ~90% – high by national standards – to closer to 98%. It was not about reducing costs or other changes to delivery or outcomes.

Charlie Baker has a blog at http://www.letstalkhealthcare.org/ that is now on my RSS feed list.

Another fascinating interesting speaker was David Eisenberg, MD, Director of the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Eisenberg was the first US medical exchange student to China in the 1970′s after Nixon opened up China, and has devoted his career to applying Western scientific methods to the study of traditional Chinese herbal medicine. One of his current projects is to catalogue stocks of traditional herbs collected by Chinese herbalists in all 30 provinces., including tracking the sites with GPS and storing them in controlled conditions. His hunch is that it is the combination of active ingredients from different herbs that create the beneficial effects. He also believes that Chinese herbal medicine will, after a 500 year legacy, die out within a generation, so there is an urgency to this project.

Xconomy posted a conference review here.

There’s some audio and video from Convergence 2009 that we invite you to view, listen to, and share with people in your network:

- Henri Termeer on the importance of passion

- Henri Termeer on international opportunities

- Audio from four Convergence 2009 panels