Here's a look at some trends we spotted at HLTH 2019

FierceHealthcare headed to the HLTH 2019 conference in Las Vegas this week. Here's a look at some of our takeaways from our time there. 

How far can we go with consumerism in healthcare?

It's no surprise that some of the biggest names at HLTH were well-known consumer brands such as Walmart, Google and 23andMe. Healthcare's internal debate on how far to go with consumerism was front and center at the conference.

Walmart, for instance, took attendees on a virtual tour of its new health clinic in Georgia, which was specifically designed using the retail giant's customer experience know-how to be a one-stop shop instead of the fragmented experience many patients face. CVS Health also spotlighted its new HealthHUB stores.

Google Health is looking to harness the company's massive reach as a search engine to meet patients where they are when they're searching online for health information.

Legacy health organizations, meanwhile, lag behind on the consumer experience versus the traditional patient experience. Whether they can keep up, and are willing to try, remains to be seen. — Paige Minemyer

Lots of interest in cutting out insurance

Billionaire Mark Cuban has been a vocal opponent of the insurance-based model in healthcare and certainly said as much during a discussion at HLTH.

But he wasn't alone in his desire to circumvent the insurance market. I sat down with the new CMO of Hims & Hers, a telemedicine company that specializes in offering services to low-risk patients. They're filling a gap in care for individuals who don't have a primary care doctor, Chief Medical Officer Patrick Carroll, M.D., said.

They aren't trying to stop people from having a pimary care provider, Carroll told me. But plenty of people don't feel comfortable seeing a doctor for a sensitive health matter, such as erectile dysfunction, or they just want to be able to get an ongoing prescription for birth control without the hassle or wait of an in-person appointment. They also just want to see the price ahead of time, and that means coming up with a set price without even getting insurance involved.

That's also what Walmart is doing at its new health clinics. Services cost a flat fee, even for the uninsured: $40 for a primary care visit, $50 for an adult to get a dental checkup and cleaning, $45 for a visit for an eye appointment and $1 per minute to see the therapist. Laboratory services and imaging for both primary and dental care are available on-site. — Tina Reed

Health tech may be kinda creepy, actually

I sat down with Firdaus Bhathena, the chief digital officer for CVS Health, at the conference, and he noted that a challenge the health IT side of the industry faces is the creep factor.

As healthcare finds further applications for voice tools like Amazon's Alexa or video monitoring (Google, for instance, is working toward health applications for its Nest platform), Bhathena said it's critical to offer those to patients in a way that builds trust.

"Nobody's going to trust us if we're creepy," he said. — Paige Minemyer

So. much. virtual. reality.

At dinner one evening during the conference, Paige declared she'd performed hip surgery.

Of course, no one would actually trust Paige with a scalpel.

But the gimmicky opportunity to try her hand at virtual reality surgery fit right in with the flashing lights and pinging slot machine environment of Vegas. It was several hands-on demonstrations of the technology promoting applications ranging from allowing practice surgery to fighting loneliness.

While VR is certainly nothing new in the fast-churn world of tech, it still seeped into plenty of my conversations around the conference with executives touting their latest uses for VR including tackling opioid addiction or finding easier ways to train staffers. (Although, to be honest, I tried one of the VR systems at the show and couldn't figure out how to make it work.) So while this isn't new, the enthusiasm isn't dying down, especially as the tech improves. — Tina Reed

Fertile business

The sheer number of companies aimed at addressing fertility, pregnancy and the first months of life felt notable. Some of the vendors I spoke with said it's a direct reflection of the VC world starting to recognize the opportunities in what are traditionally seen as female-centered businesses. 

Here's a look at the companies represented by some of the folks I saw this week.

  • Maven: The VC-funded digital health clinic that caters to women and children, as well as a provider of fertility benefits for companies.
  • Carrot: A company that bills itself as "customized fertility benefits for the modern company."
  • Ava: An artificial intelligence wearable that tracks the fertile window in real-time.
  • Progyny: A company that manages fertility benefits for employees at large firms and became the first fertility benefits management firm to go public last week.  
  • Progeny Health: A NICU case management company that focuses on the health outcomes of premature and medically complex newborns through provider collaboration and parental engagement.
  • Baby Trax: A partner of Progeny Health, the mobile app allows individuals to track growth and development milestones and health information like vaccinations, as well as send and receive messages from their ProgenyHealth case manager.
  • Kindbody: A startup that touts itself as a one-stop-shop for all women's health and fertility needs, including egg freezing. — Tina Reed

Still solving for social services

It should perhaps come as no surprise that finding ways to mitigate the social determinants of health was a running theme at a healthcare trade show.

At HLTH, the options ranged from startup solutions from groups like Papa, which connects seniors to college students to address social isolation, to large-scale efforts from giants like Kaiser Permanente, which announced at the conference that it will launch a campaign targeting food insecurity called Food for Life.

But the underlying message, as HLTH aims to envision the future after all, is that healthcare's next evolution must start at the individual level.

"Hopefully 50, 75, 100 years from now it will be recorded in history that we made a difference," Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson said in his keynote. — Paige Minemyer