By Mimi Dunn, Chen Cao
In its fifth year, the HLTH 2022 conference convened over 9,000 attendees from across the globe over four days at the Venetian Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Attended by providers and health systems, payers and insurance companies, employers and benefits leaders, consumer tech and wellness, investors, startups, life sciences, and pharmaceuticals, this event has quickly become one of the premier health tech events where dealmaking and announcements are made. Members from the iHub team attended the conference and here are some of our takeaways.
Health systems facing tremendous workforce challenges
At HLTH, one of the most discussed and pressing topics was the current healthcare workforce challenges. Last year alone, over 300,000 professionals left healthcare, 120,000 of which were providers. In a talk featuring Cheryl Pegus, MD, MPH, Executive VP, Health and Wellness at Walmart, she stated, “the job of being a front-line clinician is no longer what we imagined it to be in medical school. We’ve added a lot of bureaucratic red tape as organizations have gotten bigger, so that the average physician in a large health system feels anonymous, invisible, and even lonely. They don’t necessarily feel like they have agency over their work anymore because it’s complex and it’s been made complex in ways that aren’t value-add for patients anymore.” Nurses cannot be forgotten either, as mentioned in the panel, “Healing the Heart of Healthcare’s Workforce: The Nursing Crisis”, more than one-third of nurses plan to leave their role by the end of the calendar year. After nearly three years of facing the COVID-19 pandemic, the already battered health systems are struggling to balance adequate staffing levels, employee burnout, managing higher personnel costs, and administrative burdens.
Solutions in the health tech space could help address some of these key challenges. CommonSpirit Health is aiming to utilize technology to help with staff management and labor shortage. For example, technology could help to efficiently manage staff and serve as a resource for employee mental health and wellbeing. Health tech solutions could also reduce administrative burden like documentation.
Funding in health tech slows down
The current macroeconomic environment is challenging, as shown with venture funding down significantly in 2022 compared to previous years. There are many layoffs in tech and other sectors, as companies anticipate a forthcoming receession. In the talk, “Are Unicorns Real,” in 2021, $29 billion USD was invested. Contrast this to only $12.6 billion invested by the end of Q3 2022. In another panel, “Doom or Boom? Digital Health’s Financial Future,” the speakers mentioned the deal volume during 2021 was so high that it was difficult to do due diligence and the slowdown in funding was the market correcting for such practices.
In 2023, the potentials of a recession are more real than ever before. This will have significant impacts to the growth and sustainability of health tech startups, as well as the healthcare industry as a whole. Hospitals will be focusing on financial sustainability—and we expect the health tech industry, especially those companies not generating profitability will face a challenging year to come.
COVID has revealed the inequity in healthcare
The topic of health equity was another theme emphasized throughout the conference. Coined “techquity”, one of the key takeaways is to ensure that employers in health care consider hiring workforce that represents the people they are serving. This includes taking into consideration the socioeconomic and cultural background of the same population. Providing solutions in multiple languages or increasing access by ensuring everyone has compatible technological devices are just some examples.
HLTH is bigger than ever before—and more inclusive of topics and speakers, too. The conference was an excellent way to connect and reconnect with colleagues and friends in the digital health and innovation space. It is hopeful and uplifting to see so many ideas showcased, but it will be interesting to see how many of these companies will last in the coming year as the industry faces yet another unprecedented historic event in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic.