HLTH: An Alternate Reality

by | Oct 30, 2019

Six thousand movers and shakers in healthcare came together in Las Vegas for HLTH, a conference in its second year that has obviously attracted quite a following. The best characterization of this event is a mini JP Morgan (the uber-large annual event held in January) devoted exclusively to digital health. Not sure how they did it, well actually I do know – a lot of money was invested to pull HLTH off – but in doing so, the organizers successfully brought together senior executives from across the digital health spectrum under one roof. You had pharma, payers, providers, retail, med device, investors and of course a multitude of IT vendors, most of them smaller start-ups.

Surprisingly, then again maybe not, did not see any real representation of the traditional health IT vendors one finds at legacy, lagging, indicator conferences such as AHIP, HIMSS, and others of this ilk. However, Optum did make a big show of it and was likely one of the larger sponsors of this event.

As one walked towards the conference through the MGM Grand, eventually one wound their way down a long, dark corridor of blue lights rounding a corner into the brightly lit registration area with a DJ playing upbeat music. As one friend put it to me:

John, that dark corridor led us to an alternate reality where truth is suspended.

He was right.

While HLTH is an extremely well-organized event with numerous tracks and sessions that at first blush appear highly relevant and current, (certainly more so than anything I’ve experienced at most other healthcare conferences) in the end, far too many sessions echoed the common refrain about how so and so or such and such was going to disrupt healthcare. Yawn. There were also those incumbents of the industry talking consumerism and engagement that I found at times to simply be delusional at best or disingenuous at worse.

Not that we do not need disruption and more consumer/patient-centric models – far from it. But the healthcare industry is so mired in a tangled, convoluted web of its own making that no incumbent in this industry will rock the boat too much for fear of losing their piece of the $3T+ annual healthcare spend in this country. Even most of the self-proclaimed disruptors just want to get their share of said pie as well.

But countering this, and arguably the best talk was that of entrepreneur Mark Cuban. Cuban announced to this audience of healthcare leaders that they are not truly disrupting their businesses and burning that tangled web to deliver better, more accessible and affordable care. Maybe that is where true disruption will arise from – a savvy, smart entrepreneur such as Cuban with deep pockets, a desire to do good and who cannot be bought out or compromised.

Beyond the sessions and presentations though, the real value of this event and where I spent the majority of my time was simply networking and discussing the state of the industry. Highlights of those discussions include:

  • Countless health systems continue to not share critical data with others. For example, one company that helps stand-up physician-led ACOs stated that roughly 40% of hospitals will not share ADT feeds with the ACO.
  • AI/ML was bantered about constantly and our opinion has been that adoption of such for clinical care delivery is many years off. Talking to a leading researcher in the field, she told me that actually clinicians are very excited to use AI if it solves a vexing problem for them. Time for us to rethink our thesis.
  • Blockchain was mentioned several times, but always in a derogatory fashion. This technology is deep in the trough of disillusionment.
  • Despite all the current hype around SDoH, few if any healthcare systems would be going down this road if not for value-based care reimbursement models.
  • The vast majority of today’s healthcare CIOs are anything but strategic and relegated to keeping the network up and optimizing the EHR.
  • Best quote: “Often we are just creating data cemeteries.” From a conversation about the silos of data collected across the healthcare sector.

HLTH is a tad too glitzy for my tastes and I would have preferred more challenging discussions and questions from panel moderators. Yet, for an event in only its second year of existence, it is impressive and there are many intelligence nuggets to collect by attending – I’ll go next year. I also really appreciate the efforts that organizers took to bring together the entire healthcare sector under one roof to discuss how digital health will change the future of care delivery.

This is the correct way to view digital health and by extension health IT. It is not about providers, it is not about payers or just pharma, a view by and large that continues to this day. As HLTH infers, it is time to start thinking about how we use health data across all sectors of this industry to improve the delivery of care and ultimately patient outcomes.


  1. Brett Furst

    Thank you for sharing John. Well done!

  2. Douglas Horner

    Will HLTH be sustainable over many years? Just remembering TEPR and Health 2.0. If they spend lots of money to make it successful, will it be able to survive in the long run.?

    • John Moore

      Only time will tell Douglas. They are certainly spending far more money than TEPR or Health 2.0 ever did to put on a very well-executed conference (one of the best I’ve been to) that brings senior execs from all major stakeholders, something TEPR and Health 2.0 never quite pulled off.

  3. Glenn Keet

    Hi John –

    Nice report. I have not yet attended HLTH, but I feel like I did now! I plan to go next year, so see you there. My colleague attended and said the sessions were more compelling than at other shows.

    Let’s be sure to catch up soon, lots to discuss since we last did during the hey days of HIEs.

    • John Moore

      Hello Glenn,
      Bit of a blast from the past seeing your name here. Yes, HLTH is an interesting event and topics covered were broad and at times quite insightful. Far better overall than any other broad based health tech conference I’ve been to. And let’s do catch up in near future.

  4. Mike

    Great piece.

    I attended and had a very similar experience. And I couldn’t have said it better – the talks were delusional at best, and disingenuous at worst. The question I have is – was this by design? Meaning, do they want the conversation to be surface level? If they want conversations to be substantiative, the moderators should ask for evidence: anecdotal is better than nothing.

    For me, enough with the hand-wavy success stories – tell me what didn’t work..tell me what failed.

  5. John Moore

    It is rare that anyone wants to discuss their failures, which is unfortunate as that is where the lessons are. Regardless, I did not mean to infer all sessions were delusional or disingenuous as some were quite insightful. I just get frustrated when event organizers put some big name up on stage and that speaker does nothing but give a simplistic talk or statements. This is where better moderation would have helped.

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