Healthcare Leadership: 3 Takeaways from 2020

Healthcare Leadership: 3 Takeaways from 2020

Read Time: 4 Minutes

More than forty senior healthcare executives recently convened virtually at the GLG Institute Healthcare Leadership Summit, against a backdrop of the pandemic and intense global, social, and political changes.

Throughout the day, healthcare experts reflected on how the industry has changed in the last year, and how leaders can collaborate to improve the efficacy of healthcare for generations to come.

Following are three major themes that emerged from the event.

COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the healthcare operating model

We have a long way to go before we can put the pandemic behind us. Even so, we’ve already seen unprecedented innovation, collaboration, and scaling in therapeutic and vaccine development over the last ten months that will change the industry forever.

COVID therapeutic development is going to be a long effort. “Today there are hundreds and thousands of trials ongoing, but the disease itself we’re still at the beginning of understanding,” Annalisa Jenkins, Board Member, FasterCures told us.

Even with the right treatments in place, it will take time to establish fair and equitable access globally. “Scale is incredibly challenging” said Luc Debruyne, Former President of Global Vaccines at GSK. But scale will be essential to reopening trade economies.

This sense of urgency has brought incredible change to pharma. The process of discovery and approval is rapidly changing; we’ve seen a handful of companies using the same placebo arm in COVID-19 clinical trials, which was previously unheard of. We’ve also seen remote monitoring gain speed–a concept that will be a game changer for oncology and other applications in the future.

The same trends took form for more routine doctor visits. “Practices closing due to COVID 19 forced physicians to turn to telemedicine overnight,” said Lee Shapiro, Former CFO of Livongo and Former President of Allscripts. “CMS facilitated this with changes in reimbursement, driving explosive growth. Now the toothpaste is out of the tube – telemedicine is going to be part of the way in which medicine is practiced going forward.”

Indeed, we’ve seen a global push to invest in these technologies over the last 10 months, in large part because temporary payment reform allowed it. “The question now is whether payment reform can be sustained,” said Nirmal Patel, Former VP of Population Health at UnitedHealthcare. If it can’t, widespread adoption may still be a long way off.

Another question is whether telemedicine can better position our healthcare system to tackle chronic conditions. Home lab testing, counseling, and coaching could become as easy–and affordable–as subscribing to Netflix.

2020 accelerated the call to purpose-driven leadership

Although it now feels like a lifetime ago, Business Roundtable issued a statement in 2019 on the evolved role of the corporation. Leaders can no longer focus on shareholder value alone, it said. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) are table stakes, and leaders should be increasingly focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

Not much changed on the DEI-front after their statement–until the death of George Floyd this spring. Healthcare leaders reflected on this shift at the Summit.

“Corporate leaders have been having the same conversation about DEI&I over and over, but this time, our employees won’t tolerate the status quo,” said Denice Torres, Former Chief Strategy & Business Transformation Officer at J&J. “Words aren’t enough. Set goals. Find partners. Report and hold yourselves accountable,” Karen Boykin-Towns, Vice Chair of the NAACP added.

How can the healthcare industry contribute to meaningful change? For one thing, there needs to be active advocacy in addition to mentorship. It’s important to diversify boards and senior management, but middle management is actually the hardest position to penetrate and build credibility in. Meanwhile, it’s the key to long term success.

For another, boards and senior leadership need to set the right example. “Seventy-one percent of sponsors admit they have successors/proteges of the same race or gender,” said Lanaya Irvin, President of COQUAL research. That has to change.

As for ESG, boards and investors can see the value of these initiatives more clearly by tracking stock performance. Healthcare executives agreed that when ESG goals are established and communicated as an integral part of business goals, they can lead to profound impact on success. Thus, ESG continues to be a key priority for the industry.

Business leaders must pay close attention to the global geopolitical environment

The healthcare industry was deeply intertwined with global governments this year.

Here in the United States, a strong government response was critical to controlling the virus and keeping the economy afloat. The government’s mixed success in these matters was a key component of the election, and likely contributed to Biden’s win.

In China, the road to recovery was more linear–and less political. China was able to maintain economic performance by managing COVID-19 relatively well, and boosting defense. The country has already been hugely focused on healthcare innovation for decades, and biotech continues to be something of an obsession.

Ultimately, the stability of the world depends on a balance of collaboration and competition between the US and China. Because of failure of government-government relations in recent years, the onus falls on businesses to build bridges between the two nations.

What’s ahead in 2021?

Healthcare leaders can’t be myopic in 2021. Although most are optimistic about the future, they all acknowledge it is essential to continue to work together and try to solve problems more holistically.

This means leading with empathy, humanity and authenticity. Afterall, Denice Torres reminded the audience, “We have an imperative need as healthcare leaders to fight for people – for patients, for employees and consumers.”


GLG Institute (GLGi) is a community of senior executives across industries sharing expertise to accelerate their professional development. GLGi recruits the world’s best operators, leaders, and policy makers to serve as Advisors to GLGi Members, through 1:1 meetings and events like the Healthcare Leadership Summit.

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