The healthcare conference celebrated its 5th year in Las Vegas, where almost 10,000 attendees discussed the biggest challenges in healthcare alongside gambling, gin and tonics, and glowsticks.
At times it felt like a rock concert or a rally. There was food, drinks, a meditation tent, beauty salon, games, mimosas in the registration line, popcorn and ice cream. And the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas was just beyond the walls of the Venetian’s conference center.
Was this really a healthcare conference?
Yes, it was. And while HLTH 2022 put on quite a show, it was still all about healthcare. But a new definition of “healthcare,” which has been battered by the pandemic and bruised by the politics. Now, it’s about both health and care, and all the connections that can—and should—be made to support that strategy.
Witness the exhibit hall, an engaging network of booths and pavilions connected by a circular walkway and encircled by the various stages on which presentations and panels were held. Familiar healthcare names like TytoCare, the Mayo Clinic and Bamboo Health dotted the landscape, alongside a good number of start-ups, but included in that mix were Best Buy, Lyft and Salesforce, and a half dozen organizations focused on food insecurity and meal planning/delivery.
The upshot of all this is that healthcare, or value-based care, isn’t limited to clinical services. Gaps in care, and barriers to accessing care, are often caused by factors outside what had long been seen as the healthcare enterprise. So-called social determinants of health include transportation, diets and exercise, family life (including elder and child care), work and school concerns, housing, cultural norms, even social services and legal concerns.
With that in mind, healthcare organizations are recognizing that the key to reaching underserved populations may lie in expanding the healthcare platform to address any and all of these issues. Imagine a primary care doctor who can refer a patient to a local food bank, set up rides to and from healthcare appointments, arrange child-care or even prescribe an app or digital therapeutic treatment that uses art, music, mushrooms, or trips to the park or museum.
HLTH 2022 imagined all of this, while also tackling the hot-button issues of provider stress and burnout, data integration, AI, interoperability and the often underappreciated role of the nurse in innovation and program development. That these issues were addressed alongside an event that included Ludacris, Lance Armstrong and Amelia Anisovych, the Ukrainian girl who sang “Let It Go” in a Kyiv bomb shelter, may have rubbed some people the wrong way, but it worked.
Healthcare innovators pride themselves on “looking outside the box” for the next great thing, and this event made sure that no one was boxed in. It also challenged the many healthcare executives to think differently about how they deliver care. Keynotes and fireside chats from Kaiser Permanente Chair and CEO Greg Adams, HCA Healthcare CEO Sam Hazen, and Amazon Health Chief Medical Officer Nworah Ayogu, to name a few, talked about breaking down barriers and redesigning healthcare.
“This is the first stop on our journey to capturing societal risk,” said Nebeyou Abebe, Highmark Health’s senior vice president of social determinants of health, during a main stage session.
HLTH offered a place where everyone could exchange ideas, debate issues like the supposed decline of telehealth and the looming healthcare workforce shortage, test out VR equipment, visit intriguing start-ups from Australia, Israel and the Cedars-Sinai network, and talk payer reimbursement, the end of the Public Health Emergency and Medicare-backed innovation. And if that happened alongside a game of table hockey, a juice bar offering something with beets and ginger, or a race car, so much the better. That’s one way to spark the synapses.
The big question, of course, is what we all get out of this. Was this all show and no substance? Will we see action taken based on the discussions held at HLTH? That, of course, will be the topic of many more stories to come.
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.