As most of you know, I’m lucky to attend a wide variety of health IT conferences every year. It helps that I live in Las Vegas where a lot of conferences come, but we also find it’s important to be out there connecting with people and learning about the latest health IT happenings. Attending so many conferences, I can say that none are as well produced as the HLTH 2019 conference that’s going on this week in Las Vegas.
Everything at HLTH 2019 was a first class production. Some of it felt more like a club than a conference, but I think that’s the feel they were going for. The hallway to get to the conference was nearly black with some funky lighting and silver shimmering trim on the sides. Dr. Nick cleverly turned one of the lights into a light saber. Each of the sessions had a similar feel with a dark space and a well done stage that made it feel more like a theater performance than a concert. Even the exhibit hall was deliberately darker with a similar aesthetic.
While this kind of dark night club approach definitely felt different, I have to admit that I felt like it discouraged interaction at the conference. It was all so dark that you couldn’t see who was in the room who you could connect with and it felt more like a theater where you go in and prepare yourself for the performance. Maybe that’s the effect the organizers were going for, but it was disappointing for someone like me who enjoys connecting with people the most at a conference.
This point aside, the hallways were bustling with connection and engagement with those at HLTH 2019. As one attendee told me, with a few exceptions the sessions felt pretty basic and weren’t all that interesting, but there were so many good people at the event that it didn’t really matter.
One exception to this for me was Mark Cuban on stage being interviewed by Andy Slavitt. I’ve always been a big fan of Mark Cuban and he definitely didn’t disappoint. As he mentioned, he focuses on three areas the most: neural networks/AI/Machine Learning/etc, healthcare, and the Mavs (Dallas Mavericks for those who aren’t huge sports fans). You could tell that Mark had really spent his time studying healthcare and had a sincere desire to improve healthcare in the USA.
At the event, Mark talked about his two biggest efforts in healthcare. The first was his efforts to F*** Up (his words not mine) the pharma industry that’s charging way too much for drugs that cost almost nothing to produce. He shared an example of a drug that was overpriced and making pharma billions of dollars that would only cost $250,000 to produce for everyone that needed it. Long story short, Mark Cuban is getting into the pharma business, investing to be able to produce these drugs and is going to undercut these overpriced drugs using his public benefit corporation.
Mark also shared why this hasn’t been done before. His advisers told them that it had never been done because whenever someone would start down this path, the pharma companies would come and basically buy the company before it could undercut them. Mark shared how a week after he learned about this, he received an offer from a pharma company to buy his company. Mark said his adviser told him, “You know what to do.” and Mark said “F*** Off!”
Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what happens with Mark’s new pharma company. Will he be successful. Will Pharma fight back with new laws or other techniques to hamper him from being successful? I also wondered if Mark had talked with Intermountain about their Generic RX Company. Feels like there could be some synergies there.
The other effort Mark Cuban is working on in healthcare is a new bipartisan (hopefully) healthcare plan. Mark’s plan will focus on efforts to help patients be healthier versus more coverage. He aptly pointed out that “No candidate has asked the question. What is going to make the population healthier?” Mark was light on the details of his plan since he’s still asking Democrats and Republicans to “beat it up” so he can make it better. Plus, he’s waiting on a 10 year projection on how effective the plan will be.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from HLTH 2019 since I could only attend a small part of it last year. However, the growth trajectory is pretty amazing to see. While I’ve heard some compare it to HIMSS, I think that’s an awful comparison. HLTH is quite different than HIMSS. Instead, I’d describe HLTH as a mix of JP Morgan and Health 2.0, but much more accessible since it’s in Las Vegas where you can get a room for $129 a night rather than $1000 a night.
If you want to see startup companies, invest in companies, work on partnerships with large companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Uber, Lyft, Walgreens, etc then HLTH is a great venue. If you’re looking to sell product to CIOs or doctors, then HLTH is not for you. The closest you’ll find is quite a few Chief Innovation Officers. Will an event like HLTH change healthcare or just further the business interests of those in healthcare or looking to get into healthcare? That’s an open question.
The nice thing at HLTH is that you never know who you’re going to run into in the hallways. For example, I was lucky enough to run into Jonathan Bush and did this quick impromptu interview with him. Watch the #HLTH2019 hashtag on Twitter for more updates from the conference.