My first HLTH conference was an eye-opening journey through the heart of healthcare, figuratively and literally — I’m glad I brought my walking shoes! I clocked almost 10 miles each day walking around the convention center and to all of the events in Vegas. 

It was a star-studded conference, and I’m not just talking about Nick Jonas, Chelsea Clinton, Fat Joe, and Ashanti. All of the people that you work months (or years) to get a meeting with were in the room - healthcare executives, investors, CEOs, etc. 

Amidst the excitement and extravagance of the event, however, a sobering reality persisted — patients in the U.S. healthcare system are struggling now more than ever.

Here are a few of my insights:

The breadth of topics was unlike anything I’ve seen, and the experts were there to learn.

With sessions spanning more than half a mile of real estate, there was something for everyone: panels addressing the most pressing needs of the health landscape, like patient engagement and health equity, but also vision casting for the future with sessions on the opportunity of AI. 

What struck me most was that everyone was there to make new connections - with people, companies, and ideas. Unlike other conferences, speakers weren't merely there to share their wisdom but also to listen and learn, fostering an atmosphere of equality and growth. Investors were taking meetings on the conference floor and it was easy to strike up a conversation with a C-Level executive of a major organization. Ultimately, these connections could turn into major investments and partnerships.

The most meaningful conversations happened at the smaller networking events. I attended a dinner specifically for Marketing and Comms leaders (where I knew no one) and I left feeling like I got to know everyone and expanded my network significantly. We talk often about the problems of fragmentation and silos in healthcare — this conference showed the power of bringing together stakeholders from across the industry and left me feeling a part of a community. 

Diversity efforts are making an impact, but it’s still lagging in some sectors. 

I was excited to see and hear many diverse voices at the conference. In an industry that has been traditionally male-dominated, the organizers for HLTH did an excellent job of elevating female and minority voices, and there were a lot of events and talks focused on women’s health, an area that has been underfunded and neglected by medical research. 

The majority of the conference attendees were male, especially in the investment sector, but I’m hopeful that the diversity of the panels and topics reflect a positive shift in the industry’s mindset and priorities.

The elephant in the room was the extravagance of the event. 

It was impossible to take advantage of everything at the event. On top of all of the content, there were puppies, massages, zen gardens, headshots, concerts, exercise classes (and the list could go on). The extravagance contrasted sharply with the disparities that we were meeting over cocktails to discuss and solve, some of the worst of them present a stone’s throw off the Las Vegas Strip. 

The neighboring county of Nye is a maternity care desert, one of 10 counties in Nevada that has zero hospitals or birth centers offering obstetric care, and no obstetric providers. And it’s not just maternity care. All of Nevada’s 17 counties have some type of shortage designation. Ranked at 48th in the nation for primary care providers to patients, Nevada has some of the greatest access to care issues in the U.S.

Realistically, you could pull similar statistics for any locale. Across the country, health systems are dealing with decreasing budgets, labor shortages and burned out clinicians, and patients are bearing the consequences.

I believe that everyone at HLTH 2023 wants to improve the status quo, but time will tell if the money spent in Vegas will accelerate the structural and care delivery changes that need to happen in healthcare.

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