Our 2022 Healthcare Wish List

February 10, 2022

By Billy Deitch, Oak HC/FT

While many pull out their crystal balls in the early months of the year to make predictions for what’s ahead, we’ve decided instead to share some of our hopes for what we’d love to see in the coming year. From enacting legislation that expands access to care to greater diversity, here is Oak HC/FT’s Wish List for 2022:

Wish #1: On the heels of Omicron, Covid begins to look more like the flu

Thankfully, the Omicron wave appears to be abating. However, the impact of this massive surge in Covid cases will stay with us. Omicron threw our psyches a curveball: it was less deadly, more transmissible, and showed the world that Covid will continue to evolve.

Covid is becoming endemic – it’s not going away, so we need to learn how to live with it. This means our collective mindset needs to shift, but that’s easier said than done!

In the early days of the pandemic, we were afraid to leave our homes, we were wiping down our groceries, and the world ground to a halt. Now, as the outlook on Covid changes, we need to adopt a mindset that allows us to live our lives – go to work, send our kids to school, and return to normalcy. This won’t be like flipping a switch – but our wish is that as we come to internalize that Covid is now a part of our environment just like any other transmissible disease, we are able to reframe our perspective.

Wish #2: We learn from the silver linings of the pandemic

Despite the immense hardships of the past couple of years, Covid has presented all of us with glimmers of silver linings here and there. The healthcare industry is no different. One of our big wishes for this coming year is that we don’t forget all that we learned about how care can be delivered. At the beginning of the pandemic, providers were forced to find ways to deliver care in novel ways. We saw it within our own portfolio, as several companies accelerated the development of virtual care platforms that had long been on the product roadmap. Virtual care went from a potential add-on to a core part of many businesses. The pandemic also witnessed an accelerated embrace of in-home care, as novel care models were suddenly viewed through a more open-minded perspective.

Wish #3: Some of the more ambitious policy ideas come to fruition

As participants in the healthcare ecosystem, our attention was naturally drawn to recent legislation and regulatory action that can have a tremendous impact on our industry.  Legislation that included investments towards social determinants of health, increased access to insurance for low-income Americans, lowered drug prices, and improved maternal health coverage, all of which represent areas of great need and can lead to important systemwide progress.  

However, over the last few years, we have seen positive regulatory changes begin to address payment frameworks that we hope continues, given the power and potential of aligning incentives among all key stakeholders around cost and quality.

During the pandemic, we also saw emergency use authorizations enacted – such as waivers for the Ryan Haight Act around telemedicine and Acute Hospital Care At Home – to further effective alternatives to traditional settings and allow providers more freedom to practice across state lines. These changes are just good common sense. In an environment where access to care is limited, we hope to see authorizations like these made permanent as well as a continuation of regulatory improvements that lead to alignment, access and quality care for more people how, when and where they need it.

Wish #4: More diversity in founders, yielding more diverse ideas

The world of entrepreneurship and venture capital has been an insular, opaque, and homogenous ecosystem for far too long.  That might feel okay for those on the inside, but it’s a problem for the greater good of society. Fortunately, the dialogue is changing. At Oak HC/FT, like so many of our peers, we want to continue to see even more diversity in the teams we back and hope that this is an accelerating trend across the market. We need more underrepresented minorities, more female CEOs, and more non-coastal HQ’ed companies receiving funding for great ideas that can transform healthcare.  

The reason is simple: if the majority of founders look the same and come from similar backgrounds, that means less creativity and more limited perspectives. The best solutions will be created when a broader set of voices are heard.

Wish #5: We discover ways to ease provider burnout and offset shortages

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the most acute problem facing healthcare today is an alarming shortage of providers. Perhaps more than any part of the economy, the healthcare labor force is stretched to its limit driven by an amalgamation of burnout, Covid, and “The Great Resignation.” The numbers speak for themselves: over the course of the pandemic, over 450,000 workers left the healthcare industry. As a result, 8.2% of all jobs within healthcare remain unfilled. This not only means exhausted, overworked doctors, nurses, staffers, and administrators– it also means the potential rationing of care for patients.  

Our aspiration is that over the course of 2022, we find ways to reverse this trend. As Covid relents, we will hopefully see this burden ease. But provider burnout was a challenge well before the pandemic, so more must be done.  Administrators and executives need to ensure that providers feel taken care of. In addition, by applying automation and technology, we can ease the day-to-day burden of repetitive, manual work littered throughout the bureaucratic maze of the American healthcare system.  We’re optimistic that 2022 will see more attention paid to this immense challenge.

Wish #6: Innovation reaches more of the underserved

One of our core investment theses at Oak HC/FT has been investing in businesses that are finding ways to increase access to care, and we’ve been proud to see so many of our companies achieve this goal. This year, we hope to see this come to fruition particularly in the hardest to reach populations, whether it be people with low incomes, living in rural areas, or suffering from conditions, such as serious mental illness, where care has historically been inadequate. When the calendar turns to2023, we want to look back and be able to say that thanks to the efforts of incredible entrepreneurs, policy makers, and forward-thinking health systems and payers, millions of underserved Americans received more access to care than they ever had before.

Wish #7: After a record year of funding into healthcare, we see all of that capital begin to bear fruit in outcomes

Our friends at Rock Health recently published a jaw dropping set of data: between 2011 and 2021, the amount of capital invested into digital health exploded by 35x, from $1.2B to $29.1B. That is both astonishing and incredibly exciting. It means that hundreds (if not thousands) of entrepreneurial companies are well capitalized to tackle entrenched problems in the healthcare ecosystem.

With a variety of capital resources available, our hope is that 2022 witnesses the fulfillment of the promises made in the pitchbooks of 2021. More people get access to high quality care. Costs are driven out of the system. Drug discovery breakthroughs are realized. Challenges within healthcare we previously thought couldn’t be tackled are slowly chipped away.

Wish #8: We get to see each other again!

Not much more needs to be said!