Whether it’s developing lifesaving drugs or increasing access to quality care for underserved older adults, today’s health care leaders are looking to technology to make strides in an otherwise unforgiving economy.
During Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in Marina del Rey, Calif., this week, several industry leaders spoke on a panel hosted by Bristol Myers Squibb and moderated by Fortune senior writer Erika Fry about how to drive health care innovation in a tumultuous economy.
For Frédérique Dame, a partner at Google Ventures, that innovation looks like getting people to understand that women’s health care is a worthwhile investment.
“A lot of people think that women’s health is like checking a box, especially in this economic environment. It’s easy to say I checked the box, and I don’t need to address it anymore,” said Dame. “But you have different demographics of women—there’s Gen Z, there’s women in their reproductive age, there’s women in menopause and elderly care.”
Furthermore, Dame stressed the fact that addressing women’s health impacts everyone.
“Women’s health is health,” she said. “When we address women’s health, we also address men’s health because 50% of fertility issues are men-related, but contraception shouldn’t be falling only on women. It’s important that we address women’s health as a big topic and not a nice topic.”
All of the panelists agreed that equitable access to health care is also fundamentally important. David Koretz, cofounder and CEO of CopilotIQ, an at-home medical care provider for older adults with chronic conditions, highlighted the importance of affordable care for seniors living on a fixed or low income.
“In Tennessee, where I’m based, 42% of seniors [on a fixed income] have no doctor, and the ones that do have an average of three minutes of care they get per year,” he said. “So it should come as no surprise that we haven’t been successful in fighting diabetes or hypertension with three minutes per year. I think all of us should be acutely aware of the fact that we’re approaching the problem the wrong way.”
Instead, Koretz suggested looking at ways to reduce or eliminate medication altogether. His company also pairs patients with nurses who meet with them every week and coach them on diet and lifestyle changes.
It’s also important to care for the caregiver, as Wendy Mendenhall, chief operating officer of Avanlee Care, an app for caregivers, noted with a new version of the app on the way that will have features designed to help both the care receiver and the caregiver.
“We’ve taken something we feel is super important and created a very simple solution for the family caregiver that’s all under one roof from a digital perspective,” she said, adding news about an executive order from the White House that focuses on supporting caregivers.
Cathi Ahearn, senior vice president for worldwide commercial portfolio strategy at Bristol Myers Squibb, acknowledged that innovation can also be slow going, pointing to the amount of time it takes for drugs to be developed and approved.
“Drug development is a long-term investment,” Ahearn explained. “A good clinical trial for adjuvant cancer, for example, could start today and not get an answer for 12 to 15 years. And we’re having to make decisions around those kinds of investments without really knowing what the future looks like, so we’re trying to figure out how we bring innovation into the way we develop drugs, the kinds of trials we do, and how we reach patients and physicians.”