Medical Device Daily National Editor

NEW YORK — Lois Quam has an idea or two — more likely a few hundred of them – about the future direction of U.S. healthcare. What she didn’t have until very recently was a particular platform for the investment side of healthcare.

But on Tuesday, Quam clearly had just such a platform — and a keynote speaker’s spot on the agenda — as the 19th annual Piper Jaffray Health Care Conference got under way at its familiar Pierre Hotel venue.

Quam noted that her presentation came in her fourth week as managing director of alternative investments at Piper Jaffray (Minneapolis), a newly created post that is centered on the development of new business opportunities in healthcare and renewable energy.

She joined Piper after an 18-year career at UnitedHealth Group (Minneapolis), the national healthcare insurance giant that has earned a reputation for forward thinking when it comes to the future of the industry.

During her talk in The Pierre’s Grand Ballroom, Quam touched on business, political and social perspectives of healthcare policy moving forward.

For those viewing the question from a purely business perspective, as might be the case with both companies and investors involved in the med-tech arena, she had encouraging news: “Healthcare is an arena of outstanding business opportunities.” In some cases, she added, “the opportunities will be dramatically different.”

Yes, there are what she characterized as “continuing challenges,” but those challenges are, she said, “opportunities looking for solutions.”

Citing the importance of healthcare in the current consciousness of the nation, Quam said that only the war in Iraq occupies a higher rung on the ladder of concerns Americans have as the usually simmering political caldron heats up and the approaching presidential election year.

“Healthcare reform is returning forcefully to the national environment,” she said.

The new president will face what Quam said are the twin challenges: “a lack of consistent consensus” and “the burdensome historical legacy of whether the government is better [as a provider of solutions], or are the markets better?”

Her opinion is “that businesses will do better with action, rather than inaction, on healthcare reform.”

Quam added: “Given the salience of this issue, the new president clearly will have to address it.”

She said that in working with the government, “you need to deliver solutions that are of value to both the government and the consumer.”

In order to succeed in such an environment, she said healthcare-oriented companies must, one, be adaptive; two, be diversified, and three, be responsive.

She told her audience — made up in significant measure of large institutional investors — “I suggest that as investors, you ask companies [in which they might invest] what they are doing in regard to those three points.”

As David Letterman might (were he not impacted by the ongoing writers’ strike), Quam had a Top 10 list for opportunities in healthcare, although she ranked them in the tradition 1st-to-10th fashion rather than the talk show host’s usual inverted order.

1) The opportunity to bring cost-reducing technology to healthcare, which she said “hasn’t had as much cost-reducing innovation as other industries. Cost-reducing innovation matters.”

2) Conversion to “green” products and services. “There’s a great synergy between fitness and greenness,” Quam said.

3) Redefinition of devices and services for chronic diseases.

4) The “boomers,” which she called “this unprecedented demographic wave,” and said brings “enormous opportunities,” especially “anything that can make you look good and look young.”

5) Government and private-sector partnerships, noting her former employer’s great success in dealing with Medicare Part D problems when that prescription benefit was introduced: “We felt that we had to go the extra mile to address the problems” faced especially by the lower classes in the changeover to that new program, she said.

6) New ways for employers to provide healthcare coverage, such as in the new GM-UAW contract that transfers far more responsibility to the union.

7) New opportunities and threats, including areas such as neurology and virulent infections.

8) Individualized healthcare treatments, building on the potential posed by the genetic revolution.

9) Speeding up the bench-to-bedside process, utilizing available resources to better understand where needs exist.

10) Cross-industry cooperation. “Healthcare too often focuses only on innovations for its own space,” said Quam.

She said the healthcare sector will need to be adaptive, will require a diversified portfolio in order to adjust to changing circumstances, and will need to be able to respond “with innovation, speed and forethought.”

As for her new role, Quam hewed to the “opportunities” theme, saying, “We’re working in an exciting time and an exciting space.”

She said she sees “tremendous synergies” between healthcare and renewable energy.

“We’re looking at how we can look across the economy as a whole and come up with possible alternative investment vehicles.”

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