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June 7, 2023

Key takeaways from the Mainebiz Health Care Forum

Panelists on stage Photo / Renee Cordes Jackie Farwell, left, moderated the Mainebiz Health Care Forum on Wednesday. The panel included Amy Harkins of KMA Human Resource Consulting, Dr. Brett Loffredo of MaineHealth, United HealthCare's Eric Swain and Tim Dentry of Northern Light Health.

From insurance coverage to preventative care, the Mainebiz Health Care Forum in South Portland on Wednesday touched on a broad range of topics.

More than 100 people attended the event moderated by Jackie Farwell, director of communications of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and a former journalist with Mainebiz and other media organizations.

"Retail is the next big part of health care innovation." That was a prediction from Eric Swain, United HealthCare's vice president of sales and account management for New England. Citing moves by Amazon, CVS and Walgreen's into health care, he said, "That is the next big push out there, the interesting thing will be how we integrate it all together."

Swain sees the developing area as holding great promise not just for urgent care, but also for primary care, disease management and specialty care.

Noting that people want telehealth mainly from their own doctors, he noted that if retail care is done right, "it'll be very integrated into local care."

Employer efforts "not just a one-and-done." To help employees navigate the health care system, employers should provide a "manageable" amount of information on a rolling basis, said Amy Harkins, a human resources services manager with KMA Human Resource Consulting. 

“It's not just a one-and-done,” she said.

"Time and a place for bricks and mortar." Even as telehealth continues to evolve, Northern Light Health President and CEO Tim Dentry said "there's a time and a place for bricks and mortar."

His organization, for example, is replacing century-old hospitals in Blue Hill and Greenville and recruiting providers there because "it's good business."

While many U.S. capital projects were halted during the pandemic, Northern Light stuck to its plans "because we have to give hope."

The company is also integrating behavioral health care system-wide and adding beds at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor to meet the growing need, Dentry said.

Technology's pluses and pitfalls. Offering a physician's perspective, Dr. Brett Loffredo of MaineHealth remarked on the flexibility that telehealth offers and how providers can use technology to help guide patients to the "lowest barrier to care."

A minor cough, or prescription refill, for example, might best be handled in a virtual environment. At the same time, he said deciding how to effectively allocate care remains challenging.

He also said that as health care providers wade into the digital environment, it's important to ensure that they aren't creating barriers for the most vulnerable populations to access care.

Personal reflections

Panelists covered a host of other topics, wrapping up with answers to audience questions.

On a more personal note about recent lessons learned, United HealthCare's Swain said he discovered that "working from home is tougher than it looks.”

KMA's Harkins said that taking an emergency medical technician training course during the pandemic has increased her appreciation of first responders and medical providers.

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