Austin lands conference focused on health care innovation

Local health care industry officials on Tuesday said they have enticed a key conference to move from Austin from Atlanta and expect at least 500 top executives to attend next spring.

The third annual Transformation in Health Conference, tentatively scheduled for April or May, relocated to Austin to tap into the region’s entrepreneurial and budding health-care ecosystems, the event’s organizers said.

“Austin is a small market, but it’s an up-and-coming market and has created a reputation … that welcomes innovation and supporting innovation,” said Fawn Lopez, publisher and vice president of Modern Healthcare magazine, which organizes the conference. “We wanted to be in a market that’s consistent with the goal and the objective of the transformation summit.”

Lopez and her colleagues will coordinate the conference in partnership with the Austin Healthcare Council, which helped draw the event to Austin and announced the deal at a luncheon Tuesday. Gus Cardenas, president of the council, said he expects between 500 and 1,000 executives to attend the two-day event.

“This shows the rest of the world we are here,” Cardenas said Tuesday morning. “It’s a small, nascent but growing ecosystem that’s looking at new ways of tackling old health problems.”

“There’s nothing we’re working on that has the same potential” as health care innovation, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said at the luncheon. The possiblities are especially significant for Austin, Adler said, because the city “is getting into this in such a big way” as the health care industry is undergoing significant changes.

Prior summits drew executives from a broad range of health care companies, Lopez said in a phone interview last week. By bringing together physicians, administrators, suppliers and other stakeholders, the conference could identify ways individuals and organizations were transforming the health care industry.

As an example, Lopez noted the ongoing transition to a model that pays for better overall patient outcomes, rather than a fee paid every time a doctor performs a procedure. That shift is forcing the industry participants – from hospitals to physicians to equipment suppliers – to rethink their business interactions.

So physicians might not be able to dictate the equipment or supplies they use if those supplies cost a lot more but don’t produce better results. Lopez said. That means the companies that supply those products and services now have to participate in efforts to provide greater value.

“They now have to get on the same page with the administration as far as cost containment is concerned,” she said. “If they can’t help customers save money and deliver quality care at a lower cost, they’re not going to get a seat at the table.”

The conference brings all those industry officials together to discuss new ways to improve care, lower costs and increase efficiency, she said. With the move to Austin, the summit will add new “matchmaking opportunities” designed to bring together health care startups and investors, Lopez said.

Cardenas and other local officials said Central Texas, despite its relatively small health care industry, is a natural environment for thinking about new innovations in health care systems, operations and especially technology.

The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School has a stated goal to transform health care delivery and systems. An emerging innovation zone near the school is being developed to help foster startups and companies and to help bridge the innovation at the school to the Austin business and residential community.

And earlier this month, Merck, Sharpe & Dohme Corp. officially said it will build its fourth global information-technology innovation center in Austin. The global pharmaceutical company expects to create at least 600 local jobs in the coming years.

“People are seeing we have the brain trust, the infrastructure that’s in place and the ability to be able to move forward quickly because of an entrepreneurial type of thinking and acceptance of new ideas,” Cardenas said.


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