Last week, HLTH, billed as the “the hottest, newest, largest and most important healthcare event creating a much-needed dialogue focused on disruptive innovation” successfully launched a new healthcare conference with substance, not an easy thing to do. Patientco was there to take it all in and help add to the conversation (and to have a good time–it is VEGAS, after all).

Patientco CEO Bird Blitch at HLTH panel
Patientco CEO Bird Blitch (third from left) sits on a panel at the 2018 HLTH Conference in Las Vegas.

There have been a number of solid ‘nuts and bolts’ recap-style reviews of the conference already. Two of my favorites are from freshbenies and Fitbit. You should check them out for a good summary of the conference. For this post, I’m going to focus on how the conference related to the work we’re doing here at Patientco to rethink how healthcare payments are done to provide a better patient experience and improve the financial stability of health systems.

Let’s face it: you can’t improve the U.S. healthcare system without patients and providers working together for positive change. That, to me, is the common thread that made HLTH special and different. Consumer technology is reshaping healthcare, and this crowd was all about it. It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare. There’s a good reason Deloitte projected healthcare spending to reach $8.7 trillion globally by 2020.

That’s an amazing number, but how does it impact health system financials on a local and regional level? What are the next steps to improve?

While there were differing opinions on ‘how’ to improve, there was a clear consensus among all the financial panelists on one thing: meeting the consumers’ needs is the key.

The challenge is that around 50% of billed balances range from $1,000 to $10,000 (according to Patientco data), yet 61% of consumers can’t afford an unexpected $1,000 expense, according to a recent Federal Reserve study on the economic well-being of the U.S.

Our CEO, Bird Blitch, participated in a panel on the future of healthcare payments and shared that we believe there are more patients willing to pay than are actually able to, and what creates the ability to pay is different for every patient. A busy professional may need the convenience of text message payments. Others may need to spread payments over months or years with a payment plan or financing option.

Health systems need to be able to tailor the patient financial experience to the individual, just as their doctor tailors treatment to their needs. Healthcare should take cues from the retail and financial industries, which offer products to help consumers afford higher-ticket items like furniture, cars, homes, etc. Healthcare is a high-ticket item now, too. It’s time for a different approach.

On the clinical side of things, the best I can do is express my optimism that there are some really smart people working on improvements to make healthcare more consumer-friendly. A few of the many examples: I heard Lyft discussing taking employees to the doctor so they don’t have to deal with driving and parking (or, worst of all, losing their parking spot at work!); Fitbit discussing how wearables can ‘nudge’ consumers to better health; and CVS discussing how they plan to complement traditional healthcare rather than compete.

Overall, I believe HLTH was a step in the right direction for healthcare. However, it is important to realize that this was a microcosm of staunch advocates for change in the healthcare system. It’s good to have a place to plug into that kind of energy, but the real test will be to see if people and companies come away from HLTH with new ideas they can convert into positive change on a broad scale.

There are lots of moving parts and uphill climbs, but I’m an optimist. We’re going to get there.