HLTH Conference 2021

Driving Healthcare Innovation for the Post-Pandemic World

After eighteen months of demonstrating resilience and embracing innovation to tackle a pandemic never experienced in decades, the healthcare industry is at a pivotal point. What do we see, and where do we go from here? 

These questions are part of larger conversations that need to go beyond the virtual screens – a primary agenda held by in-person events picking up again across sectors.

To get the pulse, network, understand and share, we recently attended the HLTH (Health) conference, one of the first big healthcare professional meet-ups since the pandemic began, which was held at Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this week (Oct 17- Oct 20, 2021). 

The meet-up proved to be an energizing time for us-healthcare and technology professionals-to reconnect with our colleagues and run into prospective contacts. 

Even with masks on and frequent hand sanitizing rituals, the smiles and delight were evident in each participant. 

Connecting the health ecosystem

This year HLTH conference had 6500 registrations for in-person events and a total of 7200, including participants for virtual sessions.

Incorporating exciting in-person events and inspirational digital content, this year’s HLTH conference presented a large confluence of payers, providers, startups, investors, policymakers, and innovation centers. 

It was a refreshing change as healthcare professionals got an opportunity to interact in person and listen firsthand to the strategies and ideas from top leaders across the industry.

The 4-day conference had numerous curated one-on-one meetings, roundtable discussions, special sponsor exhibits, and entertainment that presented opportunities for networking and learning industry insights. 

Just the massive size of the conference was overwhelming, with full-day sessions happening concurrently across four tracks. Additionally, general sessions were held in the ballroom. The 13 isles of the exhibition hall accommodated more than 450 companies presenting the innovations that they so intently created while collaborating remotely during the pandemic.

HLTH 2021 was attended by eminent personalities in the healthcare industry, including Albert Bourla, DVM, Ph.D. – Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, Stephane Bancel – CEO of Moderna, Dr. Karen DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., MSc. – Chief Health Officer at Google, and Cheryl Pegus, M.D., M.P.H- Executive V.P. of Health & Wellness of Walmart.

Federal officials, including Dr. Micky Tripathi- National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator of CMS, and Elizabeth Fowler, Ph.D. J.D.- Deputy Administrator and Director, CMS Innovation center, were also present.

Industry insights to take forward

At HLTH conference, experts shared their thoughts on the future of healthcare innovation and transformation; utilizing digital health, advanced technologies such as AI/ML, and virtual care to their full potential. 

The COVID-19 was the underlying strain of it all, with speakers focusing on how the changes brought from the pandemic can be harnessed for innovation. 

Digital Health and Changing Care Landscape 

Accelerated by the pandemic, digital health is bringing in rapid transformations. While US healthcare has yet to reach the level of widespread consumer access achieved by other industries, the sector is evolving like never before. From patient-facing apps to productivity-enhancing clinical apps, digital health solutions are at the forefront of driving healthcare innovation.

The panel discussion on “The Blurring Lines of Health Devices” highlighted that companies are focused on customer experience in the health tech space, and the next step would be to focus on making the data intelligent. 

Dr. Alexa B. Kimball, president and CEO of Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess, opined during the discussion “Getting Personal with Digitally-Enabled Care” that digital health has enabled healthcare providers to have increased access for different populations and make a difference in people’s lives.

A collective effort for addressing health equity

Health inequity is a challenge plaguing our healthcare industry, contributed by disparities in social determinants such as wealth, education, and racism. As government and federal policymakers are introducing plans to address this, health systems can also play a critical role. 

Executives from Cleveland Clinic, UMass Memorial Health, and Boston Medical Center urged that health systems focusing on health equity should include community projects in their investment portfolios. 

They also said that partnerships yield better success than solo endeavors. 

For instance, UMass Memorial recently built a Tiny Home Village, a community for housing chronically homeless, in partnership with Civico Development, a community real estate and development group. This proved to be efficient as UMass Memorial was to combine their drive and funds with Civico’s local awareness and business acumen.

Such collaborations can help people benefit from the solutions, support, and capital that health systems offer.

HLTH conference 2021
Image credit: Dave Muoio for Fierce Healthcare

AI in drug development –Ironman’s J.A.R.V.I.S needed

The panel discussion “AI in drug development” had an interesting start with Miruna Sasu, Chief Strategy Officer at Cota, making an Ironman reference. She said that everyone is looking for a J.A.R.V.I.S to solve every problem. 

 She discussed the benefits AI can bring into use cases for drug development through a narrow approach, for instance, AI/ML model for finding and matching patients for clinical trials.

While the opinions differed on that aspect, there was a unified nod to the inadequacy of data available to train AI algorithms. With data being the linchpin on which AI hinges, a nuanced approach to data curation is needed.

Industry disrupting announcements by tech giants

  • Amazon Care Director Dr. Kristen Lloyd Helton confirmed the online retailer plans to expand virtual care service for its employees to 5 additional cities this year–Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles. Amazon Care consists of virtual primary care and urgent care visits along with limited in-home services.

  • Google’s Chief Health Officer Karen DeSalvo, M.D., said that the tech giant is looking to weave health into all parts of the business, helping billions of consumers around the world be healthier.

  • Walmart is planning to distinguish itself from the pack by providing low-cost and trusted omnichannel care offerings. The retailer already has added virtual care, drug discount programs, and a unified EHR system to its portfolio.

  • The Chief Medical Officer of Microsoft has announced that the company has integrated its healthcare-focused cloud offering “Cloud for Healthcare ” with Cerner EHR. This allows doctors to access the platform without downloading any additional software or switching to another portal. Microsoft’s offering includes Microsoft 365, Dynamics, Power Platform, and Azure.

Business in the new normal

The most exciting feature of HLTH we found was that it provided a platform for candid discussions.

The insights and trends we discussed before emerged from honest opinions by executive leaders of various organizations—big and small. Such candid conversations were expected as no one had previously faced the extraordinary circumstances triggered by the pandemic.

As a silver lining, innovations are peaking; changes are being implemented across the healthcare ecosystem.

One thing they all were convinced of: there is no going back.

Large enterprises are already accommodating digital strategy aggressively along with business growth. Alan Lotvin, M.D., Executive VP of CVS Health and President of CVS Caremark, pointed out that while they have a bigger business to focus on, which they cannot get their eyes off of, and digital has a smaller impact on their business, it is still extremely important to them. Digital strategy requires focus and continuous adjustments for times to come.

In the case of innovation-driven startups, we observed that many of the solutions could be stitched together to create a holistic and more profound impact for patients. Also, the breadth of coverage across the healthcare ecosystem was great and continually evolving.

“This is an exciting time for strategists, innovators, venture firms, and enterprises to experiment and provide solutions that ultimately result in better patient care and health outcomes,” says Sharat Rastogi, VP of Strategy and Growth BTC.

The HLTH conference has clearly shown that the change is coming. Whether you are a healthcare service provider, a health system, or a patient, it is best to prepare for this change.

When work feels fun

On a lighter note, HLTH had numerous fun events and activities.

The “After hours” session at HLTH conference ensured that work could also be fun. The Happy Hours and Exhibitions had attendees enjoying peer-to-peer conversations, special entertainment acts, and sponsored lounges.

And to entertain attendees, organizers had brought puppies in the test waiting area, making it a fun time for everyone.

Another highlight of the event was “The HLTH Foundation Gala” held on October 19th. The entertainment night was to raise money and awareness to fight mental health through health innovation. 

Several celebrity performances, including Michelle Williams, Wanda Sykes, and the band Huntertones, were also present throughout the 4-day conference.

Innovation and the future ahead

The HLTH conference concluded on October 20th with an optimistic note. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be profound, with shifts in consumer behavior, new trends, and deep economic impact. If done the right way, these effects can be utilized to bolster technological advancements and future innovation for healthcare. 

For 2022, HLTH has planned a digital health industry event “VIVE” in partnership with CHIME, the professional organization for senior healthcare IT leaders. ViVE is a one-of-a-kind, collaborative, and immersive experience designed to engage with senior-level leaders, influencers, and emerging innovators in the digital health space.