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November 21, 2022 // Sarah Natoli  //       //  Opinion

Highlights from #HLTH22: Three Key Takeaways and a Few Innovators to Keep an Eye on as We Enter 2023

In the fifth year of the event and the first year many in the industry went back to in-person attendance at conferences, #HLTH22 drew nearly 10,000 healthcare entrepreneurs, thought leaders, journalists, experts and life-long learners.  

So, what was it like to get off Teams and Zoom and reflect on our industry together? Exhausting but exhilarating, and 100% worth the trip. Here are three key takeaways and some companies to watch for as we prepare for 2023.  

Key Takeaway #1: Many digital health entrepreneurs appear undeterred by a decreasing pool of available investment dollars and an increasingly challenging economic climate  

While moderators (many of them seasoned VCs like Oak HC/FT) and panelists (some of them recent recipients of large funding rounds like Maven’s impressive $90 million raise) were hesitant to state we’ve entered a recession, there were certainly recurring references to a tighter investment environment and an overall challenging economic climate—both on the various event stages and in informal conversations between attendees. Not to mention the slew of layoffs that occurred before, during and after the conference. Yet many seemed convinced investment dollars are still available. But in stark contrast to 2021, it’s a smaller pool only accessible to select brands that can demonstrate both real-world value and scalability.  

That got me thinking as I stared down the seemingly endless rows of exhibitor booths, many with near identical taglines promising transparency, transformation and a better patient experience. I wondered on the first day, how could we look at these booths and predict the winners and losers for 2023? Yes, there were a few major standouts—BehaVR with its VR demo, Instacart with actual nutritious foods on display and ConnectRN with a gorgeous photo display celebrating nurses. And by the end of the three days and many conversations, I was able to spot other, cutting-edge companies with huge potential (see a short list of brands to keep an eye on at the end of this post). Even so, I left HLTH even more convinced storytelling, even more than product displays, is the key ingredient to success for emerging brands 

Key Takeaway #2: Provider organizations were notably absent, reflecting a larger disconnect with the digital health ecosystem 

It’s no secret  health systems and other provider organizations are struggling—capacity constraints, thin margins, HCP burnout and the ever-looming shortage of providers all hinder their ability to innovate and engage with future industry leaders. That’s exactly what I talked about over coffee with an experienced executive of a successful health tech startup with roots in the health system world. It’s not that hospitals and health systems don’t want to attend HLTH; rather, with a few exceptions like Geisinger, they’re just not able given other urgent priorities. 

While many of the companies represented at HLTH clearly want to be part of the solution to this very problem, the disconnect between digital health entrepreneurs and the providers they’re trying to reach is still concerning. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see more providers represented at HLTH next year, and I think there’s a true call to action here for health tech—get your value prop for providers down pat. Take the time to understand their (many) pain points and take an audience-first approach to your product development. Do you want to build a product or service because you and your team are excited about it, or are you motivated by the impact you can have on those who deliver care? Those driven by the latter are most likely to succeed in 2023—that is, if they tell their story effectively.  

Key Takeaway #3: The road to achieving health equity is long, but it seems like we might finally be on it and understand that it’s integral to building a better patient experience 

I was admittedly skeptical about the health equity track at the conference. It took more than a decade in healthcare for me to gain true understanding of the health inequities in our country and their causes, and it took extensive conversations with many experts to build a solid foundation of knowledge in this area. I know I’m not alone among my peers, and no one in this industry should be ashamed if they don’t yet have a deep understanding of health equity, social determinants of health, or any of the other terms that have suddenly become buzzwords during the pandemic but have been long understood systemic issues among our colleagues in public health and health policy.   

For those who made it to the Impact Stage at HLTH to observe and engage in health equity programming, there was a ton of value. At Clover Health’s panel, “How to Combat Structural Racism in Healthcare,” the audience was challenged to think beyond supports for and challenges of minority populations and reimagine health equity as a universal goal. We are all on our own path to removing barriers to health, said Dr. Carladenise Edwards of Clover Health and Parsley Health. And we are all on our own path to understanding which barriers different communities—both in the U.S. and beyond—face and how health tech can help remove them. Similarly, Moderna, Zoom and Zócalo Health offered insight into how tech can continue to improve access and make healthcare more equitable. I hope HLTH’s commitment to open conversations about not only health equity, but more sensitive topics like structural racism, will result in greater levels of comfort discussing these issues post-HLTH. Because health equity plays a large role in the optimal patient experience so many of us are invested in building. 

Brands that are thinking big and bringing true value to the table 

There is so much more to discuss than these three takeaways, of course, but hopefully they are enough to get marketers and communicators thinking about how to tell their brands’ stories against the current backdrop of a crowded industry, decreased investment dollars and the integration of health equity issues into efforts to improve the patient experience.   

In the meantime, here are a few companies that are primed to do big things in 2023:  

  • Moderna: No longer a COVID-19 company, but a global enterprise with a robust product pipeline, Moderna was a key sponsor of HLTH’s health equity track described above. And both Chief Commercial Officer Arpa Garay and Chief Legal Officer + Head of the Moderna Foundation Shannon Thyme Klinger took the stage. On Monday, Arpa joined executives from Blue Cross, Biogen and Steward Health Care Systems to discuss innovative approaches to partnerships and pilots (entrepreneurs, take note and get your hands on that session’s recording!). On Tuesday, Shannon joined Ron Emerson, Global Healthcare Lead for Zoom and Erik Cardenas, Co-founder and CEO of newcomer  
    Zócalo Health, for an engaging discussion on the role of tech in improving equity. When Shannon closed out the panel by urging entrepreneurs and policy makers to “ask for the change you want to see, because we now know the impossible is possible,” I got chills. 
  • Navitus: If you’ve heard of a PBM (pharmacy benefit manager), you probably associate the term with the biggest healthcare players in the ecosystem (e.g., Optum, CVS/Aetna, etc.). But there are also smaller PBMs like Navitus with years of data that back their claims that tech can transform the pharmacy space through its transparent pass-through approach, its low-cost formulary and its clinical care model. I was energized by the passion of the company veterans at the Navitus booth and excited by the brand’s data-driven and dare I say, disruptive, approach to pharmacy benefits. 
  • Propeller Health: When our pediatrician asked us to track my daughter’s use of her rescue inhaler in a notebook, I wished she had recommended an app. Because while I carry my phone 24/7, I’m unlikely to have a pen and paper when I need them. It turns out that not only is there such an app, but it’s integrated with a remote monitoring device. Through Propeller’s solution, both kids and adults suffering from chronic respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD can track their own respiratory-related data and work with providers to improve everything from medication adherence to drug efficacy. Propeller also works closely with pharmaceutical companies and plays in the clinical trials space. 
  • Veda: Who says automation isn’t fun? Certainly not anyone at Veda. I was delighted to arrive at their booth and find not only a set of vintage video games but an opportunity to try my hand at grabbing swag with a giant claw. While some may have initially stopped by the booth to play Ms. Pac-Man, they stayed because the team is dynamic and passionate. Every time I walked by, the co-founders were deep in conversation with customer and prospects. Why? Because the company has figured out how to apply automation to the uniquely messy, human-generated data we have in healthcare and drive both greater efficiency and better outcomes. Keep your eye on MedCity News’ social channels to watch co-founder Meghan Gaffney’s interview onsite at HLTH.  

Well, that’s a wrap. Hope to see you at HLTH 2023 and would love to hear what you thought of this year’s event—drop a comment below! 

Sarah is a seasoned content and communications strategist with deep experience in the healthcare industry. At Allison+Partners, she serves as the Health Practice’s “Storyteller-in-Chief,” counseling clients on the most effective narratives and messages for their businesses, as well as advising on the appropriate channels to leverage for maximum impact. Prior to joining the agency, Sarah worked at Revive, a Nashville-based healthcare agency that sits within the Weber/IPG ecosystem. Before joining the agency world, she worked as an in-house content marketer primarily in health tech.   

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