Chris LaVictoire Mahai and a team of executives from Medecision and Aveus recently attended the HLTH 2021 conference and came back with insights on a variety of pressing topics.
By Chris LaVictoire Mahai, President, Aveus, a division of Medecision
Wow! I recently returned from Boston, where I attended the HLTH 2021 conference—an event that brings together healthcare leaders to solve some of the industry’s most critical issues and realize promising opportunities to shape the future of healthcare.
I was lucky enough to attend with four others from our Medecision and Aveus teams—Aveus Senior Vice Presidents Nancy Green and Deborah McMahon; Medecision Senior Vice President, Product Marketing and Product Management, Bill Bradley; and Aveus Vice President, Business Development, Jill Vance. Together, we were able to divide and conquer, attending different sessions and networking with a variety of people.
There were 15 main themes at the conference, with more than 100 sessions and 300 speakers. It would be impossible to attend every session—but our team walked away with several insights from the sessions we did attend.
Putting an End to COVID-19
A healthcare conference in 2021 would be remiss not to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare industry and the nation. It was exciting to hear from CEOs of some of the top pharmaceutical, biogenetics and biotech companies. COVID-19 provided a catalyst for the science that was already incubating to burst onto the scene—and now that we are here, the healthcare industry can use these new capabilities to reshape both the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare overall.
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, shared his vision for the future of Pfizer, as well as the latest in the global vaccine rollout—ensuring equity and the most up-to-date data on the COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel and Thermo Fisher Scientific President and CEO Marc N. Casper discussed the triumphs, challenges, regrets and hard work over the past 22 months of the pandemic—and assessed all that lies ahead as we continue to battle COVID-19. George D. Yancopoulos, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron, and Matt Herper, senior writer for Stat, discussed how Regeneron built the scientific discovery engine that has helped fight against diseases from Ebola to COVID-19—and what the future of scientific innovation looks like in a post-pandemic world.
I appreciated the candor of these individuals—they each gave observations about what was and was not going well in the fight against COVID-19, and where they see breakthrough science (such as mRNA and antibodies) going moving forward.
Racing to Innovate
The race to create “stuff” to help one or many of the healthcare industry challenges hasn’t slowed throughout the pandemic; if anything, it is still heating up. There were more than 500 sponsors—walking through the exhibit hall and listening to pitches and panel discussions reminded me of the dotcom boom of the late 1990s.
We saw hundreds of point solutions; a proliferation of platforms; data and analytics solutions; investor groups looking for the next “big thing”; and many consultants trying to make sense of it all. We also saw many of the bigger, more established players, there to be informed.
Creating a Healthy Workforce
As more companies ask their employees to return to the office, it will become increasingly important for employers to create and support a healthy workforce. David Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, shared how the organization is working to strengthen employer-sponsored health plans and well-being programs to empower members to live healthier lives.
Of course, creating a healthy workforce goes beyond just benefits management and design—it is also about rethinking healthy work environments as new workforce strategies emerge.
Supporting employees’ mental health was another popular topic. In a session with April Koh, CEO and co-founder of Spring Health; Jim Huffman, head of benefits at Fidelity; Kelley Elliott, vice president of total rewards at Delta Air Lines; and Omar Dawood, MD, MPH, MBA, president of BetterUp Care, the topic of employers’ role in mental and behavioral health was discussed. Speakers shared how they push the boundaries of employer-sponsored healthcare to integrate an inclusive approach to employees’ mental care.
Addressing Mental Health
Speaking of mental health, it was one of the major themes at HLTH 2021. More than 47 million Americans are experiencing a mental illness such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other behavioral health disorders. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused that number to skyrocket, wreaking havoc on our minds and bodies.
In one session, speakers discussed how the pandemic has taken a toll on Americans’ mental health—and how it unveiled significant structural problems in the U.S. mental healthcare system.
On Sunday night, in a keynote address, Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and author Michelle Williams (of Destiny’s Child) shared her own story of mental health and how she took steps to fight the stigma surrounding it.
Fighting for Diversity, Health Equity and Inclusion
Health equity is important to all of us at Medecision and Aveus, and we were grateful to have the opportunity to hear from experts who are addressing inequities and disparities in the healthcare system.
On Monday morning, the day kicked off with a session about achieving social justice in healthcare. Arpa Garay, president of global pharmaceuticals, analytics and digital marketing at Merck & Co.; James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., M.D., president and CEO of Meharry Medical College; Kim Keck, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield Association; and Pat Geraghty, president and CEO of GuideWell and Florida Blue, discussed ways to create a healthcare system free from discrimination.
Despite the amount of sessions related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at HLTH 2021, I walked away feeling as if we need to be talking less—saying “we have to do better”—and actually take more aggressive steps to do more. One of the most thoughtful panel leaders on this topic was Abner Mason, CEO of Consajo Sano. I’m hopeful that with time and more successful examples to emulate, we’ll all be discussing more concrete solutions at next year’s event.
Embracing New Care Models
Retail companies such as Walmart, Amazon CVS Health and Walgreens were there in full force. The involvement of companies like these shows that new care models are on the horizon. Dr. Kristen Lloyd Helton, director of Amazon Care; Heather MacDougall, vice president, worldwide, workplace health and safety at Amazon; and Vin Gupta, MD, MPA, senior principal scientist and chief medical officer, COVID-19 response at Amazon, discussed how Amazon’s culture of innovation has led to the creation of new healthcare services for its employees and its customers.
Cheryl Pegus, MD, MPH, executive vice president of health and wellness at Walmart, shared how the company is making healthcare available to more people in affordable and accessible ways. Marcus Osborne, senior vice president for Walmart Health, and Sree Chaguturu, MD, chief medical officer for CVS Healthcare, discussed how brick-and-mortar retailers have had to pivot business models to keep up with the popularity of virtual pharmacies.
HLTH 2021 was a wonderful experience—and we left with several new contacts and information. We’re counting down the days until the 2022 event!