3 ways innovation is solving COVID-19 challenges

Published November 13, 2020

Author: Robert Kolodgy

Maureen Sullivan

At the time of writing, a record 125,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S. in one day, with many more on the horizon. As hospitals and health systems across the country gear up for a second wave, it is hard to forget the first: millions of Americans were newly uninsured as hospitals filled to capacity; protective equipment was virtually nonexistent; those with nonessential care needs were asked to stay home.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended healthcare in many ways—from how we access care to where we access it. It has also made crystal clear the relationship between social determinants of health and inequity in the healthcare system that must be addressed. These are all issues the Blue Venture Fund (BVF) has been ahead of and working toward since its inception over twelve years ago.

In addition to my role as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), I also serve as president of BVF II—one of the four funds that comprise a unique collaboration between BCBS companies, BCBSA, and Sandbox Industries, an independent company that provides healthcare-related investment management exclusively for the Blue Venture Funds.

The funds invest in health services, infrastructure and clinical technology companies that are all aimed at improving outcomes for our members, including those focused on improving access to care, enabling remote patient monitoring, improving virtual care, reducing administrative burden and refining member experience. As such, the current pandemic has not altered our mission, but rather highlighted the important themes we have been focused on for a long time and heightened the demand for these solutions. For example:

  • Virtual care management for COVID-19
    Wellframe is a leader in virtual care management. Their software platform integrates the patient with health plan care management and customer service departments to increase productivity and efficacy. Wellframe acted quickly in response to the coronavirus outbreak to build a COVID-19 module within their mobile app that allows care management teams to connect with high-risk members, seniors and those affected by the virus.
  • Hospital-quality care at home
    Contessa Health partners with hospitals to deliver essential elements of inpatient, observation, post-acute and palliative care in the patient’s home—leading to safer, more coordinated care. From our current lens of COVID-19, Contessa hits the bullseye. Not only do most patients feel more comfortable with virtual care, but access to at-home care also frees up limited ICU space and protects patients from unnecessary exposure.  Contessa keeps us where most of want to be – in our own homes, throughout the course of our care.  It also takes some pressure off of our families as they struggle for themselves in addition to care giving.
  • Behavioral and social support for high-need patients
    Upward Health is a home-based medical group specializing in patients who have complex needs. They have been solving for healthcare inequities for a long time, focusing on those in the Medicaid marketplace with very high patient satisfaction. Upward Health takes a whole-person approach to health, addressing underlying behavioral and social gaps in care, to improve outcomes and reduce costs. These factors have never been as critical as they are in 2020.

I am incredibly proud of the innovative work that has been done to improve members’ health and well-being by providing greater access, while driving down the high cost of healthcare, both before and during this pandemic. The question remaining on everyone’s mind is “What happens when this is over? What changes?” While we may never return to where we were in 2019, what we are experiencing today is not the new normal. Rather, I suspect we will see a slow settling over the coming years. Telehealth, for example, saw a massive spike of more than 50% of its former capacity in the wake of the pandemic. It won’t ever return to its pre-COVID-19 numbers—in no small part because people now have experience with it and it is a good customer experience.  This is just one example of getting to a better state instead of just returning to what used to be normal.

More rapid change is required to address the systemic challenges that became all too clear this past year. While much of the work will happen in the policy space, innovation will also play a big role in addressing systemic inequity. The BCBS system is committed to leading healthcare toward improved access, affordability and quality of care for the health of America. This commitment was the genesis of BVF, and we are renewed in this commitment to our members and communities.

About the BlueCross BlueShield Association

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans.

About the Blue Venture Fund

The Blue Venture Fund is a unique collaboration between Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies, BCBSA, and Sandbox to which thirty-six BCBS companies have committed over $800 million across four funds. The Blue Venture Fund invests in promising emerging companies of strategic relevance to BCBS companies and provides the portfolio with access to BCBS companies to deploy innovation at scale. Sandbox is an independent company that provides healthcare-related investment management exclusively for the Blue Venture Fund. For more information, visit www.BlueVentureFund.com.