MedTech conference highlights the power of partnership and the future of healthcare

Oct 31, 2017

The City of Buffalo welcomed experts from the bioscience, pharmaceutical, and medical technology communities this week for the annual MedTech Conference. It’s an opportunity for them to harness the power of partnership and turn an eye towards the future.

A new view on the power of partnership

Winthrop Thurlow still feels relatively new to the job of the MedTech Association’s executive director. He took up the position at the end of July, coming from a background in regulatory compliance at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Visitors to the MedTech conference in downtown Buffalo talk with different vendors at the "Tech Showcase."
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

The switch to MedTech is giving him an opportunity to work in the intersection between the medical research and business. For Thurlow, attending this year’s MedTech Conference in downtown Buffalo is a first.

“It’s hard not to be impressed with the diversity of information and the diversity of interests that our members bring to this organization and to this area,” said Thurlow.

Topics like the role of big data in biotechnology and medicine were among many being discussed at the day and a half conference, with an overall theme of the power of partnership. It’s an opportunity for members to network and learn about the latest advances in their fields – ones that can be difficult to keep up with.

“Those changes continue at a pace that feels sometimes as if it’s too fast,” said Thurlow. “But it’s where we are and it’s where we need to be.”

2017 marked the return of MedTech to Buffalo for the second time. After its first visit only two years ago, Thurlow explained why his organization chose the Queen City as host again.

“You look at the growth at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, you look at the growth in this area as a result of the Buffalo Billions, and what you see is that cities beginning really in Rochester and working their way across the Niagara Frontier, into Buffalo and down into Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio are able to take advantage of some of these additional programs and leverage that into some growth,” Thurlow said.

The future of health care

On day one of the MedTech conference, four subject matter experts sat alongside each other in a conference room at the Hyatt Place hotel in Buffalo to talk about the future of health care.

It was widely agreed by the panel that the future lies in a change from fee-for-service medicine to value-based care models.

(From Left) Dr. Stephen Edge, VP Healthcare Outcomes and Policy, Roswell Park Cancer Institute; Dr. Richard Vienne, Chief Medical Officer, Univera Health; Dan Porreca, Executive Director, HEALTHeLINK; Spencer Bailey, Director of Reimbursement and Health Economics, Emerson Consultants.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

The big question, asked by Dr. Stephen Edge, vice president of healthcare outcomes and policy for Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was whether the goal of value-based care is to save money or improve the health care experience for patients. Ultimately, he said, the patients come first.

“I actually think that in the long-run we will save money by improving our health through better primary services, through prevention services, and more targeted treatments for people who do have cancer, or bad heart disease, or the like,” said Edge. “But, ultimately, the real target must be improving the value for people getting care.”

How to do it is an even more complex question. Is it using new technology? Assessing data on practices and outcomes? Or innovating in hospitals and health insurance?

It can be pieces of all.

But the “holy grail” of value-based care, as Executive Director Dan Porreca of the Buffalo-based health information exchange HEALTHeLINK describes it, is personalized medicine.

“When we’re able to, as a health care community, treat people – not symptoms, not on an aggregate level, but treat individuals based on their makeup – that’s going to make health care much more effective,” explained Porreca, who noted that achieving personalized medicine is a constant pursuit for something that can’t be perfected. However, he did say that progress is being made very day.

As work continues towards value-based systems, patients must be equally as engaged in their health care as their doctors and insurance companies are. It’s a working relationship that Dr. Richard Vienne, chief medical officer of Univera Healthcare, described as an “equilateral triangle” of responsibility.

“They need to ask critical questions of their physicians, ask critical questions of their providers who care. ‘What is the rationale behind the treatment decision that you have picked for me?’ It’s really about shared decision-making and really empowering the patient to get more engaged in leading their care,” said Vienne.

On the other sides of that responsibility, Vienne said insurers should work to give patients more information and transparency, while providers should treat their patients with the same level of care and concern they would give to their own family members.