HLTH is kicking off for its sixth year this weekend in Las Vegas and healthcare leaders from around the world who are attending the conference expect it to be a showy affair.

Since launching in 2018, the attendee list has more than tripled from its first run, when just about 3,500 people signed up. 

It’s expected that this year will be just as packed as last year and the agenda will be as equally crammed with content about healthcare’s 2024 themes, obesity drugs, AI, psychedelics, policy, TikTok influencers and everything in between.

Here are five things to anticipate — and get right — at the conference this year.

1. Forward-looking innovation

HLTH’s expansive growth in recent years has put it neck and neck alongside other massive health-related conferences like CES, HIMSS, AHIP or JPM. 

However, its tendency to go big — pulling in not only major tech leaders from Google and Amazon but also celebrities like Nick Jonas and Chelsea Clinton — imbues it with a flashier vibe, notes Julia Hu, CEO and co-founder of digital health company Lark Health.

“I’ll say this somewhat facetiously — the conference vibe is different because it feels exciting, kind of sexy, right?” Hu said. “It’s shiny. The things that [HLTH] does is a little bit more showy.”

This year, singer Ashanti and rapper Fat Joe will take the stage for the Tuesday reception — following rapper Ludacris’ lead last year. This is all part of HLTH’s efforts to distance itself from the stuffiness often associated with corporate conferences.

Still, beyond all the flash, HLTH’s focus on the future also helps it stand apart from other conferences in the health space.

“There’s going to be a lot of conversations around GLP-1 innovation, around AI innovation,” Hu said. “[HLTH] tends to spend more time on future-looking topics rather than regulatory or implementation or lessons learned. There’s more of a mix where you see a lot more startups — and more executives who are thinking about what’s next. It brings together a nice ecosystem.”

Some themes that emerge based on its agenda this year include a focus on AI (who would’ve thought?), obesity drugs, innovations around aging and longevity, as well as mental health and burnout among healthcare startup founders. 

Plenty of panels also feature content on social media’s health influencers, psychedelics, as well as retail’s role in picking up primary care where it’s been pummelled by provider shortages — and pretty much any health-related topic that’s been top of mind in recent years… except COVID-19.

2. The buzz around GLP-1s

GLP-1 drugs like Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy have taken center-stage over the past year, helping buoy up the pharma companies making them even as the overall industry struggles under continued, post-pandemic macroeconomic headwinds.

However, it’s not enough to hear the news about promising data showing their efficacy or see the demand boost sales for pharma giants. 

Questions about the future of this class of drugs remain — such as managing shortages due to widespread off-label use, adherence, as well as the burden of cost on patients. Hu said she is looking forward to the HLTH panels and conversations that will hit on those.

“There’s so much buzz around GLP-1s and the weight loss solutions this year,” Hu said. “There are going to be a lot of panels on the topic, whether it’s about screening or prevention or clinical management. I’m excited to hear about GLP-1s and how we’re helping patients reach success with them, as well as access, since there are so many shortages going on.”

Of note, a panel on Tuesday afternoon will explore the impact of GLP-1s on employer drug spending. Plus, WeightWatchers CEO Sima Sistani will speak on the topic of “changing the conversation around weight” Sunday evening for early arrivers.

3. Healthcare influencers

Two LinkedIn panels this year will focus on how the top voices on social media will shape the future of healthcare. 

The first will feature several healthcare influencers – such as Medtronic chief medical officer Austin Lee Chiang, who has over 90,000 followers on Instagram and more than half a million on TikTok.

The second panel will focus on how the pandemic helped spur HCPs into discovering their voices on social media, and will include Rina Shah, senior vice president, pharmacy of the future and transformation at Walgreens as well as Northwestern Medicine’s chief of gynecology and gynecologic surgery Angela Chaudhari.

The focus on healthcare influencers is top of mind for attendee Kristin Ryan, U.S. head of digital and innovation at GCI Health.

“This is kind of a newer offering,” Ryan said. “[We’ll hear about how] healthcare influencers are making sure the right information is getting in front of the right people.”

4. Serendipitous connections

With HLTH chock-full with new startups, there will be plenty of opportunities to make connections for future partnerships. 

“I’m inspired to meet with people who are super passionate about something niche in the healthcare system,” Ryan said.

Part of the magic of a conference this big and showy is that, well, it draws the big names. 

You can expect to see leaders from Walmart, Amazon Clinic, WeightWatchers, Kaiser Permanente, Kenvue, Humana, Verily, Mayo Clinic, Pfizer, Johns Hopkins Medicine all mingling with smaller startups as well as public health officials like former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and ARPA-H deputy director Susan Coller Monarez.

“They’re all here in one place,” Ryan said. “We all live in all different places across the country and we’re all going to be in the same place – and [sparking] those relationships are critical.”

What Ryan hopes to see, however, more so than the talk around buzzwords or startup pitches – is a focus on the patient voice.

“[At HLTH] we get the opportunity to meet with patients and hear about what’s working for them or not working – and then we can at the same time meet with the health leaders at a social platform and talk about how we can collaborate to make it better for patients,” Ryan said. “That’s the fastest way to get solutions for patients. It’s about the serendipitous collaboration.”

5. Wear something… ostentatious?

It’s important to remember that if you want to get the biggest bang for your buck at a conference as enormous as HLTH, consider wearing an outfit that stands out.

“I have found that it’s useful to wear something a little out of the ordinary,” Hu said. “There are, like, thousands of people and you’re trying to meet with people you’ve never met. It’s easier to say, ‘I’m the one in the pink pants.’”