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HLTH 2018 Recap: A Transformation in Talking about Healthcare Transportation
By Travis Good, MD
Travis Good, MD is co-founder, CEO, and chief privacy officer of Datica of Madison, WI.
The premiere, sold-out HLTH conference ended last week in Las Vegas with a generally positive impression on its new style of healthcare conference. I, along with 3,500 attendees, laughed with Jonathan Bush, CEO of Athenahealth, as he entertained us with statements like, “All we do, all of us, is fail… And then we die!” We sat in stunned silence as Harold Paz, MD, executive vice-president and chief medical officer at Aetna shared the disturbing facts of the opioid crisis — facts like 116 people die every day in America, where we consume more opioids than any other country on Earth, and that more Americans will die this year than died through the entire AIDS epidemic or the Vietnam War.
HLTH was different than many healthcare conferences I’ve attended with its rapid-fire panel discussions, where the panelists didn’t waste time explaining high-level concepts like Blockchain, but instead jumped right in to describing the details of the emerging technology details. Numerous announcements and visionary ideas were also presented. The slick nature of the well-orchestrated HLTH event, likely made possible by the $5 million garnered in venture money, left an overwhelming impression for a first-time event.
The HLTH organizers did have one major miss: lack of strong representation of female healthcare leaders. Evidence of that agenda oversight gained audience criticism in social media and questions to panelists (including me) on why they thought few women graced the stage.
Two general themes prevailed throughout the conference. One centered on transforming the current healthcare business model to improve everything from interoperability, costs, and patient outcomes to physician burnout. The second theme that emerged throughout the conference focused on the exploration of entirely new business models that could transform the healthcare industry.
Announcements ranged from the splashy — like former CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt’s launch of Town Hall Ventures, his shift from the government to investing in technologies that facilitate real change in our communities, and Change Healthcare teaming up with Adobe and Microsoft to orchestrate better patient engagement — to the mundane, like Marcus Osborne, VP of healthcare transformation at Walmart announcing, “Walmart isn’t going to stand for this” in describing the poor quality of care their associates have had to endure and Walmart’s push toward an evidence-based approach that ends physician’s entitlements.
Topics around blockchain, genomics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, cloud, augmented reality, and interoperability prevailed. During a lively panel, the so-called “unicorns of healthcare” shared their predictions of the next generation of unicorns. Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder at 23andMe, predicted that the next unicorn will be in AI or chatbots. Frank Williams, CEO at Evolent Health, says precision medicine. Jonathan Bush thinks they’ll be new reimbursement models or therapeutics.
One theme woven throughout conference presentations is the idea that caring for health needs should extend beyond the walls of a treatment room and out into the community. On the first evening of the conference, David Feinberg, Geisinger president and CEO, described his vision of a new direction for healthcare for the communities Geisinger serves. The vision included not only traditional healthcare, but also feeding and housing people who need it.
Later in the conference, Lauren Steingold, head of strategy at Uber Health, described the company’s innovative new patient transportation offering that could help eliminate the $150B yearly cost to the healthcare industry resulting from 3.6 billion Americans who miss appointments due to transportation issues. Steingold described her vision of expanding that model to encompass telemedicine patients who need a ride to the pharmacy or even surgery patients who need a ride home.
My favorite quote from the conference, which pretty much sums up the current state of healthcare transformation, came from Anne Wojcicki. “What happens in healthcare is you have people who really want to do the right thing, but the ships are pointed in the wrong direction.”
All in all, the conference left attendees more informed and energized. Now HLTH organizers are taking what they learned from the first conference and planning for expansion next year.