Five Takeaways from the HLTH Summit

For those that haven’t heard about HLTH, a 6,000 person conference that promises to “Create Health’s Future,” it feels a little like if SXSW, ASCO and HIMSS decided to have a baby. The innovative event does a good job of mixing large, well-established companies like Optum, Aetna, CVS Health, Amazon, Walmart, Pfizer, Lyft and many more with hundreds of players from the digital health/startup ecosystem. HLTH also features numerous media outlets, government officials, academics and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Cuban.

What’s important about this two year old event founded by CEO and Chairman, Jonathan Weiner (he also founded well known global events, Money20/20 and Shoptalk) is that it combines companies that are well established players in health with those who are laying the foundation for a new future. For at least now, the event boasts a thousand CEOs (many are from the startup world), which obviously helps bringing a number of important players in the healthcare space to the event.

While I didn’t get to attend all the sessions, I was able to get enough of a taste of the content to see some key trends emerge.

1. Data is more critical to healthcare now than ever.

This may sound like the biggest “no duh” ever but what I found exciting is that a lot of the right people are starting to pay close attention to it. This includes the FDA, large pharma companies like Pfizer, Google (shocker), 23andMe, Walmart and numerous payer/providers.

Clearly the head of Google Health, David Feinberg, struck a chord with his quote about putting a search bar on top of electronic health records (my tweet capturing his sentiment garnered 17 retweets and 60 likes as of this writing). One of the bigger surprises to me was Principal Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, Amy Abernethy, announcing that the FDA would soon be ingesting data via an API versus PDF forms during a fireside chat with healthcare reporter, Chrissy Farr of CNBC. This is a far cry better than faxes that were once the medium of choice but hard to believe that the government is just getting to this point now in 2019.

2. Healthcare outsiders have an opportunity to fix healthcare.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks (NBA) and celebrity judge on the television show, Shark Tank, has put together a plan on how to fix healthcare. During a highly entertaining, expletive-filled conversation with former head of Medicare, Medicaid and the ACA under Obama, Andy Slavitt, Cuban exclaimed, “Right now, healthcare is so politically charged that people aren’t trying to solve problems. They’re not even trying to identify problems. They’re trying to sell what’s most politically expedient for them.” I suggest reading FierceHealthcare’s full writeup of the session here. What struck me most about this conversation is that when people like Cuban, Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg/Priscilla Chan take on a cause, things get done. I don’t know as though Cuban will solve our healthcare issues anytime soon but he’s not afraid to look at bold approaches.

3. Voice technology is going to big in health.

During one of the sessions featuring Rasu Shrestha, Chief Strategy Officer of Atrium Health, Missy Krasner, Strategic Head of Partnerships, Alexa Health & Wellness at Amazon, and Jennifer Schneider, President of Livongo, spoke about how healthcare companies are starting to create HIPAA compliant “Skills” which are like apps for Amazon’s voice controlled device, Alexa. Even though this technology is still in its infancy stage, allowing older patients to re-order prescriptions, call a Lyft/Uber to take them to an appointment, remind them to take their pills/test blood sugar levels, eat healthier, etc. will be a game changer over time. The healthcare companies that figure out how to meaningfully play in this space will be winners in the long run.

4. There are A LOT of digital health startups.

Walking through the expo floor, there were literally hundreds of companies there looking to make an impression. They ran the full gamut of wellness, AI, virtual reality, data, chatbots, etc. Sadly, many will not survive to see HLTH 2020 but this is a hot space so if you are an entrepreneur, this is a great time to focus on health.

Bringing this point home, 23andMe CEO, Anne Wojcicki, astutely noted during her featured session that “scale is critical” when it comes to the digital health space. She noted that over the last 11 years, 23andMe had amassed over 10 million customers with over 80% opting into their research panel.

5. Retailers want to bring health closer to the patient.

Head of health and wellness transformation at Walmart, Marcus Osborne, did a virtual walk through of one of their new clinics in Georgia showing all of the services customers could access. Given that Walmart is putting many of their clinics in Superstores which stay open 24/7, access to affordable healthcare is about to get a lot closer and easier. Other companies like CVS Health, Walgreens and even BestBuy are taking similar approaches to offering healthcare in store or in the latter case, creating a “Geek Squad” like offering where they could deliver services right to a patient’s doorstep.

There are at least a dozen other key themes I’ve missed in this recap but these were some of the most critical observations from the conference. To see more of the action, check out the HLTH2019 hashtag (I am proud to admit that I made it into the top 75 Twitter contributors at the event according to Symplur).

If you work in healthcare, my advice is to plan to attend HTLH 2020. It’s a great event and is only going to get better.

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Aaron Strout
Aaron Strout

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