To quote Fat Joe, “We at a healthcare conference!”

When I made my plans to attend HLTH 2023, I didn’t think a quote from the hip-hop legend would end up in an article recapping the event. However, as I stood on the balcony at Drai’s Nightclub in Las Vegas, two things clicked.

First, we were indeed at a healthcare conference. 

Second, this performance, attended by thousands of people working across all aspects of the industry, was an indication that HLTH had evolved into a truly unique entity.

Before diving too deeply into observations from on and off the convention hall floor, it’s important to level-set. If there’s one key HLTH 2023 takeaway for healthcare leaders, it’s that the conference just continues to grow in size on numerous fronts. There are bigger booths, bigger names and bigger attendee rolls.

From its humble beginnings a few years ago, HLTH has exploded in size and attracted industry-wide attention that rivals more established conferences. The industry’s bluest-chip companies now attend and happily avail themselves of the spectacle. Where else can they see a purple and pink unicorn mascot dance within shouting distance of pop superstar Nick Jonas and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb?

Organizations routinely use the HLTH spotlight to make significant announcements, deploy executives to sit on panels and host happy hours at upscale restaurants up and down the Strip. The conference reflects the state of healthcare in late 2023: Ambitiously moving forward with lessons learned from the pandemic and an eye on the future. 

Jack O'Brien and Lisa Banks
MM+M digital editor Jack O’Brien with GSK’s Lisa Banks at HLTH 2023.

Few conversations elapsed without a mention of how COVID-19 accelerated preexisting trends and dynamics across the sector. Yes, we’ve heard this for years, but seeing how many companies have attempted to accommodate changing expectations suggests that there is a stickiness to the impact of the pandemic on care options going forward. The same could be said for the interest in generative AI, next-generation weight-loss drugs and the ongoing consumerization of the patient experience.

Whether it was a Walgreens executive detailing the company’s plans to diversify clinical trials or ViiV showcasing virtual reality technology designed to help HCPs empathize with people living with HIV, industry leaders are attempting to meet the moment.

At the same time, nobody shied away from acknowledging the myriad challenges faced by the sector writ large. COVID-19 remains very much an active threat, while macroeconomic headwinds and federal gridlock threaten to impede access to healthcare. Then there’s the ongoing headache of getting in front of consumers and their physicians.

Still, unlike other industry events that venture too deep into the weeds, HLTH’s organizers took pains to ensure that its content not only pointed out the obstacles ahead but also the practices that can most effectively combat them. At MM+M’s Headfirst Into Health Equity event on Tuesday, for example, leaders argued that rectifying decades of health disparities for numerous population groups doesn’t just do right by these populations — it’s also good business. 

Ultimately, it will require bold leadership and big thinking to adeptly steer an industry that accounts for nearly one-fifth of American GDP. While many observers may point to the unrealized promises of the past, executives at HLTH were bullish about carrying forward the influence of pandemic-era thinking. 

To quote Ashanti, who joined Fat Joe on stage Tuesday night: “We are healthy, we are live.”