By Leah Scanlan, Oak HC/FT
The fifth annual HLTH conference kicked off in Las Vegas last week, and the air buzzed with an energy that was a combination of enthusiasm and conservatism. For the past two years, the pandemic has created a surge of funding to digital health companies and proved the value proposition of remotely delivered care, the need to address America’s mental health crisis, and the adoption of real-world evidence, among other things. Though it’s clear that the funding environment has slowed, it has not depleted the optimism or enthusiasm for what’s happening in healthcare, and the war for talent still wages, all of which was evident at HLTH.
Below are a few key themes that emerged as the week went on:
Tackling Workforce Burnout
Workforce shortages and burnout were a core topic of discussion at HLTH. The supply and demand for clinical talent especially remain a growing concern for companies. Companies must rethink their tactics from implementing short term “fixes” towards identifying sustainable solutions. An abundance of medical leaders and clinical officers presented throughout the week to represent the voice of clinicians from all types of companies. Very fittingly, the conference kicked off with an impressive panel Sunday afternoon around how healthcare companies are going to combat the weaning supply of nurses while still delivering favorable patient outcomes. The nursing profession, among other clinicians, has been one of the hardest hit these last few years, and more than one third of nurses plan to leave their role by the end of the calendar year, leaving health systems struggling to balance adequate staffing levels, employee burnout, and heavy workloads.
It was clear from the number of clinicians walking the conference floors, to the high representation of medical leaders on panels, that as an industry it’s imperative that we band together to get to the bottom of clinician shortages. We must start identifying solutions, many of which will result in continued investment across workforce and talent management solutions. Optimization and automation of operations will be key to how we define the problem.
Building on Health Equity
Health equity and social determinants continue to be a growing theme and a prevailing conversation as health systems and payers begin to pressure test which solutions simply check marketing boxes verses those that are driving engagement and improving outcomes. Increasing access to virtual care certainly helped, but we can’t stop there—there are still so many more problems in this space to solve. This relates directly to access to care, and tailoring care to the individual will be key.
Those with experience understanding the patient will be that much more important as we build companies going forward. The widening gap in health outcomes has communities looking to health systems for solutions, yet still 80% of our healthcare is influenced by factors outside clinic walls. Collaboration and effective partnerships are critical in establishing and maintaining equitable experiences for patients, clinicians, and staff alike. Healthcare executives today have the ability to be closer than ever to the patient experience and those with the skills to own that relationship will be far more valuable today than they were yesterday.
The Rise of Women in Healthcare
If you paid attention at all, HLTH was the year of women. In fact, 54% of the speakers at HLTH this year were women proving that women are showing up in the healthcare industry. Women are the caregivers, the mothers, the nurses, and the physicians. This past year has been a watershed year for women’s health, and 2022 brought everything from shortages impacting tampons to baby formula, to bans put on women’s bodies, to our maternal mortality rate continuing to climb. Some of the most talked about panels at HLTH were dominated by women with a clear interest from payers and employers alike to invest in women’s health to improve outcomes, lower costs, and increase retention for working women and parents throughout the U.S.
Prioritize People Leaders
One thread that ran throughout the conference both on and off the stage was how to build a company in today’s market, which is going to be very different than how companies in yesterday’s market were built. After a two-year health tech funding storm that inflated valuations, flooded the public markets, and ultimately ended in a pending recession, healthcare organizations must reprioritize, take a more transformative mindset, and leverage the best solutions to their full potential. The growth at all cost models has proven unsuccessful. We’re shown time and time again that money doesn’t equal success and as we settle into the new reality of what the market outlook is, the companies that prevail will be those with a focus on employee engagement and retention, profitability overgrowth at all costs, and company culture. People leaders will be more important than ever, and if you’re a healthcare organization without a world-class CFO, you better move fast to fill that void.
With a record turnout, the energy at this year’s HLTH left everyone feeling like 2023 will not disappoint. The markets have shifted, but optimism has not waned. Businesses being built for tomorrow will endure more scrutiny, but the hope is that we’ll have a better class of entrepreneurs with the proper fundamentals to move us forward. Our clinical leaders will remain in the spotlight as their role has never been more important, and people leaders will be at the center of navigating the realities of the last few years.