Do you know the term “pivot“? It’s all the rage now in terms of describing how companies continue to evolve their models with this rapidly changing business environment.
Of course, Aetna is one of the big healthcare players in the US. They’re not going to abandon a model that’s been working for well over 100 years. But, thanks to some great leadership from people like Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, they’ve created a new business unit called Healthagen (building on the company they bought known mostly for iTriage). The screen shot says it all.
I got the privilege to sit down with Dr. Charles Saunders who runs Healthagen at the World Healthcare Congress in DC (#whcc13).
Charles E. Saunders, M.D., is responsible for leading the strategic diversification of Healthagen’s products, services and global opportunities. He focuses on identifying new growth opportunities and developing market strategies that can help Healthagen and Aetna profitably manage quality and cost for its customers.
Prior to joining Healthagen, Dr. Saunders served as executive in residence at Warburg Pincus, one of the world’s largest and oldest private equity firms. He has held a number of other significant leadership positions during his career, including CEO of Broadlane, Inc., President of EDS Healthcare Global Industry Solutions; Chief Medical Officer of Healtheon / WebMD; Principal of A.T. Kearney; and Executive Director of San Francisco General Hospital Managed Care Programs.
Dr. Saunders received a B.S. in biological sciences from the University of Southern California and an M.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine and has served on the faculty of several universities, including the University of California, San Francisco; Vanderbilt University; and University of Colorado.
I also got to hear him speak right before I talked to him. (As a side note, he is a great presenter which is something that I really respect in a world of people who present too many slides, use notes, talk to the screen, and can lose you quickly.)
He hit on several key themes in his presentation that we then discussed further face-to-face:
- Social Caregiver Model
- Game Theory
- Digital / Mobile
One of my first questions was to really understand Healthagen and what it was set up to do. (As you can see from the screen shot below, they’re doing lots of things in this group.)
He boiled it down nicely to three things:
- Physician (provider) enablement
- Patient engagement
- Population Health Management IT
Our next discussion was really around why and how to create and innovate within a large company like Aetna. He reiterated what I believed that Mark Bertolini championed this new vision along with several of the other senior leaders. But, I think the key was that they recognized that issue of trying to do that internally and were willing to form a group to be different. To minimize bureaucracy for this group. And, to leverage their capital and assets to support this group. Not many big companies do this well. My impression is that Aetna is and will continue to be successful here. (Full disclosure – I own a minor number of Aetna shares and have believed this since I bought them about a year ago.)
Of course, in today’s market, there’s an explosion of innovation with questions on the short-term and long-term ROI of many initiatives and start-ups. With that in mind, Dr. Saunders pointed out that they don’t want to own everything. They want to create a plug and play platform of enablement. iTriage is a great example of this where they brought in a mobile technology with 2M downloads in 2011 and now have over 9.5M downloads of the tool (on top of massive increases in functionality and integration). You can download it here – https://itunes.apple.com/app/itriage-health-doctor-symptoms/id304696939?mt=8.
Certainly, one concern others have historically had in this space was how to own solutions and sell them to their peers (competitors). Dr. Saunders talked about their ability to do this with ActiveHealth and a perception that the industry is over that issue as long as Aetna can continue to demonstrate that they are good stewards of the data and are keeping the appropriate firewalls in place.
We wrapped up the conversation talking about the social caregiver and game theory. I think both are important in our mHealth / digital world. With the sandwhich generation, this is increasingly important. That is where Aetna is focusing…enablement of the caregiver for infants and seniors leveraging a social approach. This reminds me of their recent announcement of a pilot with PatientsLikeMe. We also talked about game theory and the role of that in healthcare which is a common theme from my discussion with Keas this morning and a theme from the overall conference.
It should be interesting to watch Dr. Saunders and his team and how Aetna continues to pivot.