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Health Policy 2.0: Dr. Meghan Dierks Talks Innovation at HLTH

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Komodo Health was founded on the core belief that quality data and the strong clinical evidence that can be generated from data, are essential to reducing healthcare disparities, closing gaps in care, and accelerating the development of new therapeutics. But the path from data to discovery — the process of extracting and surfacing insights from the complex assortment of claims data, electronic health records (EHR), lab results, and other real-world sources — is neither simple nor direct. Countless barriers, from data quality issues to elaborate policies restricting data-sharing among organizations, can create real challenges when it comes to the use of real-world data (RWD).

Finding practical ways to address those obstacles was high on the list of objectives for this year’s HLTH 2023 conference, where the theme was “Elevate Humanity.” Many of the discussions focused on how to get the healthcare community to work together to revise and enhance outdated healthcare delivery models, policies, and processes. Komodo’s Chief Data Officer, Dr. Meghan Dierks, was part of the “Health Policy Past Its Expiration Date” panel, where she was joined by leaders from Kaiser Permanente, Novartis, and Independence Blue Cross. They discussed some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for updating healthcare policies that inhibit innovation.

Here are the top three takeaways from Dr. Dierks’ talk:

How Lessons Learned During COVID Must Be Applied to Future Innovation
Dr. Dierks began by highlighting one of the great success stories when it comes to breaking down silos and sharing data: the COVID-19 pandemic. “One of the things that was remarkable about COVID was the relatively free flow of data that enabled situation awareness and prompt measurement of the effectiveness of control measures and interventions,” she explained. “In times of tremendous uncertainty, you’ve got to be able to access data to know what the current situation is in order to adapt to changing needs and conditions.” This was a notable departure from the era of siloed data and administrative obstacles that had preceded the pandemic.

Dr. Dierks then explained how the idea of a free flow of information could help users in the next wave of healthcare innovation: “I hope that is something we continue to embrace and that we don’t regress to an earlier stage where data becomes siloed,” she said. “That’s true not only for public health emergencies but for what I think is going to be a tremendous evolution of healthcare as we get into areas like precision medicine, where data can unlock critical new insights.”

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure
Dr. Dierks also discussed the critical role that RWD plays in measurement and benchmarking, particularly when it comes to evaluating and adjusting healthcare policy when necessary. “There are two important ways I think about data with respect to healthcare policy,” she said. “The first is that healthcare policy is enacted at a specific point in time and in a specific context. Healthcare, however, is a very social and technical environment that evolves. So if you are not prepared to systematically measure the effects of the policy implementation — including potential unintended consequences — and if you are not prepared to monitor how the system itself is evolving or drifting from the state in which the policy was made, then you are doomed to have policy failure or resistance.”

She then pointed out another key role for RWD and real-world evidence (RWE) in accelerating and potentially reducing the cost of drug development. “The reality is that the U.S. healthcare system is also a system of discovery,” she said. “We are the world’s discoverer of new therapies and treatments for conditions that have been incredibly disabling and have not had any successful treatments. Data, combined with an openness to the use of RWD in the context of clinical trials, may actually accelerate and reduce the cost of developing these therapies and getting them into the healthcare system.” 

Afterward, Dr. Dierks noted that data and thoughtful analysis are essential precursors to effective policy and regulation. “We have entered a sort of ‘hypercycle’ where the pace of innovation so far exceeds the ability of policy- or rule-making to manage risk. By the time policies or regulations are defined and applied to a real-world environment, new and different issues have arisen,” she explained. “Moreover, the cycle is accelerating. Policies relating to innovation — including those that promote and those that control or limit innovation — can have paradoxical effects. While intended to limit risk, some policies can be burdensome or potentially disabling when deployed into an already complex and changing environment. At Komodo Health, we have found that real-world data can be used prospectively to explore, through simulation, the potential effects of policies and innovation on clinical effectiveness, cost, and outcome.”

It Takes a Village
Dr. Dierks said that, given the increasing complexity of healthcare delivery and the tremendous interest in using technology as a component of care, we need to get key stakeholders and policymakers in the same room to understand and align incentives in order to create policy that supports the right match among technology, impact, and risk. With respect to policies that are deployed directly into the care-delivery environment, she emphasized, it is essential to give front-line providers the tools and latitude they need to innovate. The true innovators are the ones who are in the trenches every day, seeing what the patients’ needs are and how challenging that environment is around them,” she said. “It’s essential that we preserve the ability of the frontline providers to be innovative and give them the space and the capacity. From there, true change will come.” 

Conversations like this, which brought together stakeholders representing pharma, providers, payers, and technology innovators, are a good start. For our part at Komodo Health, we will keep having these important discussions and take every opportunity we can to demonstrate how a thoughtful approach to data and technology can be the critical link in transforming the future of healthcare.

Read more about Komodo’s vision for the future of healthcare from our CEO, Arif Nathoo.

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