The inevitable march toward patient-centric care is triggering a fundamental shaft in how health care companies do business, and many of the challenges these companies face were hashed out at a panel session at the MedTech Conference in Philadelphia Monday titled “Vertical Integration in Health Care.”

The days when medical care product and service companies could just develop and try to sell their solutions are rapidly disappearing, noted panelists. To be successful now requires offering a wider range of patient care and support services. But even companies that tried to be vertically integrated early on now need to do so for other reasons.

 “Vertical integration was non-existent ten years ago,” said Ivan Tornos, worldwide president, for BI Interventional Urology and Critical Care. He notes that while his firm’s early foray into vertical integration was done for operational reasons and profitability, vertical integration is now done with an eye toward strategically focusing the business more on customer-centric needs.

The customer-centric focus is playing out everywhere in key company decisions, according to Anthony Spero, president of Ascend Health and chief operating officer of Partners Pharmacy. “Patients are coming out of the hospital sooner, the issue becomes how do you provide best in-class care, preferably at home. What technologies can you build into the home setting?”

David Harding, senior vice president of business and pipeline for Exact Sciences, adds, “Consumers want to access healthcare in a manner that’s convenient for them. We want to alleviate the burden on primary care physicians.” Harding’s firm is a molecular diagnostics company that focuses on the early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer.

The key to patient-centric care, panelists agreed, was the effective tracking and interpretation of data to guide health care decisions and move more toward a predictive, rather than reactive, health care model.

“It involves how do we acquire data, who is at risk, and who needs additional handholding,” notes Ted Langan, senior vice president of United Health Corporation Group. “Getting ahead of the curve on data acquisition and management is a real opportunity.”

Anthony Spero of Partners Pharmacy adds, “We offer a remote drug dispensing technology to patients. Getting data on prescriptions is an opportunity to learn about patients and their needs.”

As market realities force health care companies to shift away from hospitals, panelists called for the industry to cooperate in sharing the risk of adopting new practices and technologies.

United Health Corporation’s Ted Langan says, “You need to talk about shared risk. You no longer sell pieces and parts, the goal is to sell an outcome that (positively) affects the entire health care ecosystem.”

Finding the right companies to partner with is important, according to David Harding of Exact Sciences. “You need to think about what you can do in-house and what you can outsource. We like to partner with companies who have capabilities.”