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4 key takeaways on the future of health

This year’s HLTH conference in Las Vegas did not disappoint. In an era where healthcare and wellness are at the forefront of global conversation, the event delivered a critical platform where innovation, collaboration and profound insights converged.

Visionaries, healthcare pioneers and thought leaders from around the world came together for a dynamic exchange of ideas and strategies for shaping the future of healthcare. With a diverse collection of sessions, rich networking opportunities and a palpable sense of optimism in the air, the HLTH conference lived up to its reputation as a catalyst for positive change in the industry.

Here are the four themes that sum up my observations from HLTH 2023:

1. Health equity still needs more focus

The biggest question on my mind throughout the conference was, are we making enough progress on health equity? Perhaps it’s rhetorical. I mean, of course we’d love to be further along than we are today—and there’s so much more work to be done. But, I couldn’t help but wonder: This conference, this stage contains some of the biggest and brightest minds and innovators in all of healthcare. If anyone can remove the barriers for everyone to have the access to care they need, it’s the people here. It’s the companies and solutions they represent. So, it begs the question: Have we truly prioritized this work enough? Are we asking the right questions? Are we giving it the time and attention it deserves?

My takeaway was that there are many bright spots; many tangible examples of impactful change and progress being made. But I also left feeling that health equity needs to be an even bigger part of the conversation. We, as the biggest leaders in the industry need to go beyond the surface-level conversation and dig deeper. Many of the panels and speakers acknowledged that we need to do more, but the conversation stopped there. I’d like to see HLTH prioritize—even more—the panels, topics and seats on the stage for the people and companies that are really doing this work. The clear elephant in the room, and the biggest area that needs to be addressed: Where are the incentives and reimbursement models that incentivize this important work?

2. AI can help without the hype

The conversation about AI is everywhere you look in healthcare—and HLTH 2023 was certainly no exception. It was mentioned, in some form, in nearly every session I attended. Here’s how I feel about the conversation around AI in healthcare today.

  1. The human vs. technology argument is getting old. Let’s be clear—AI and humans can co-exist. As Ami Bhatt, MD, Chief Innovation Officer for The American College of Cardiology, said: “The human brain can’t provide the best care possible. Technology is the enabler to make me an even better doctor.” I couldn’t agree more.
  2. Speaking of the humans: Clinicians are burnt-out, and AI is a key solve for that. Let’s lean in and get them meaningful solutions that are so desperately needed. 
  3. Let’s focus more on results and less on the technology itself. AI is an enabler that’s helping us create efficiencies in care coordination and delivery and ultimately achieving better outcomes. Let’s focus on implementable results.
  4. Point-solutions will only get us so far. It’s critical that we start stitching together disparate solutions if we expect to realize the true value of AI in healthcare.
  5. Every company in healthcare will be an AI company before we know it, so let’s embrace it, calm down the hype and get really thoughtful and practical about where we go from here. This quote from James Manyika, Google’s senior VP of research, technology and society, sums it up well: “Being bold doesn’t mean moving fast. The only race we are in is in the race to get it right!” 

3. Accessibility of care is getting better, but gaps remain

In many ways, it’s become easier and more convenient to consume care in America. We’re making progress, for example, as care is moving closer and closer to our communities and homes. Transportation access challenges are being addressed by ride-share companies and being baked into health plan design. Oral care and vision care are being elevated for the important role they play in being a front door for care. And information about care options is becoming increasingly accessible and simplified on social media.

Even with all those positive changes, we still have big gaps in many areas. For one, we have a concerning primary care shortage that continues to grow. For another, patients don’t have access to their full electronic health record. And, of course, the high rate of high-deductible health plans in this country presents a big cost barrier for many people to access care. As Kevin Ban, Chief Medical Officer of Walgreens said: “We shouldn’t be putting risk on the consumers. They’re less likely to get care.”

We need more innovation in these areas, folks. I remain hopeful that we’ll continue to make progress in getting people the care they need, but I’m also skeptical whether the rate of change will be fast enough to keep large numbers of people from falling through the cracks.

4. Trust & collaboration remain vital components to improving healthcare

One theme resonated quite loudly at HLTH: Trust and collaboration are foundational to everything we do in healthcare. Thought leaders agree that we need more of both, because we’re not going to drive the change that’s truly needed without them. Fostering these elements can lead to significant improvements in the quality, accessibility and overall effectiveness of healthcare systems.

When I say collaboration, I’m talking about increased collaboration among industry players (payers, providers, medical device, pharma, digital health, etc.) for enhanced patient care, medical advancements, reduced medical errors, better interdisciplinary care, etc. But I’m also talking about the kind of collaboration and support structures that patients need within their communities. We need more localized, community-based support to get people to better health. Trust and collaboration empower patients to be active participants in their care. Research shows that when patients trust their providers and are involved in decision-making, they are more likely to follow treatment plans and take better care of their health. By promoting these values, I believe we can elevate the quality of care and be more responsive to the diverse needs of individuals and communities.

My hot takes on the best of HLTH 2023

Most thought-provoking sessions:

  • “The Cost of Prevention,” featuring Shantanu Agrawal, MD, MPhil, Elevance Health; Sonny Goyal, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina; Sunita Mishra, MD, MBA, Amazon; Tracy Chu, Scripps Health; Natalie Davis, United States of Care
  • “Patient Agency, Unlocked: How Integrating AI and Virtual Care Empowers Patients and Providers,” featuring Ami Bhatt, MD, The American College of Cardiology; Vidya Raman-Tangella, MD, Teladoc Health

Best panels:

  • “Disrupting Primary Care Through Retail Health: How Far Have We Come?” featuring Kevin Ban, EVP and Global Chief Medical Officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance; Creagh Milford, SVP of Retail Health, CVS Health; and Nworah Ayogu, GM and Chief Medical Officer, Amazon Clinic
  • “The Power of Influencers: How Top Voices Will Shape the Future of Healthcare on Social Media,” featuring Sachin H. Jain, MD, MBA, President and CEO at SCAN Group & Health Plan; Ruth Krystopolski, President, Ayin Health Solutions at Providence Health; Austin Lee Chiang, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer at Medtronic GI; Casey Green, BSN, RN, Assistant Nurse Manager at LifeBridge Health

Best moderators:

  • Arundhati Parmar for “Disrupting Primary Care Through Retail Health: How Far Have We Come?”
  • Arianna Huffington for “The Amazon of Healthcare: A Customer-Obsessed Approach to Improving Human Health”

Favorite unexpected surprise:

  • The puppy park featuring dogs available for adoption in the GoodRX booth.

Despite the many areas still awaiting transformation, HLTH 2023 ignited a passion within me to keep striving for change. I’m sure I’m not alone. Let’s channel the renewed sense of purpose it gave us to collectively shatter boundaries and elevate standards. Until next year, friends, let’s go break some stuff so we can celebrate our remarkable strides together at HLTH 2024.

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