Last updated: 5/24/18

By John Orosco

Earlier this month, I attended the inaugural HLTH conference at the Aria in Las Vegas. Overall, I thought the conference was well attended by a host of high-profile health IT thought leaders, investors and startups. The conference focused on creative and innovation discussions on topics like AI, blockchain, data liquidity, pharma, virtual care, government, payor and many others. Unlike other conferences I’ve attended, the general sessions were setup as panel discussions and opened with each panelist spending 3-5 minutes introducing themselves and their companies. The moderator asked a series of pre-determined questions that focused on the topic at hand. Any remaining time was left for Q&A from the audience. Questions were submitted through a real-time mobile application called that allowed the audience to view and vote for preferred questions. The panelists then answered the popular questions.

I found the general session format successful for a few reasons. First, the topics were interesting and relevant to what is important in health IT today. Second, the panelists were predominantly co-founders and CEOs of various health IT companies or health systems, which made it intriguing to hear. Finally, the ability for the audience to engage in the Q&A portion was efficient and offered a unique candid view from the panelists.

The opportunity to network with health IT thought leaders for four days was also very productive. I met with several health IT CEOs and co-founders, media outlets like Bloomberg News and venture capital executives interested in health IT investments. Given its inaugural year, HLTH was very well attended and I imagine next year will include even more impressive folks within health IT.

Blockchain Hype

I found the session, “Blockchain at Scale – Hype or Hope” very interesting. The panelists included Ted Tanner, Jr., co-founder and CTO of PokitDok, Walter De Brouwer, CEO of, and Jay Sales, co-founder and Director of The Shop (which I tweeted about here). They talked in detail about valid uses of blockchain technology as it relates to automating various health IT contracts and the use cases where blockchain will not help. For example, blockchain technology is not useful (yet) when access to data is required in real-time or near-real-time for clinical decision making. There is an overhead to smart contracts and node connectivity that rules out certain uses cases from leveraging blockchain technology for integration. Conversely, uses cases such as automating the prior authorization process – which is heavily manual and relies on phone calls, fax machines and scanners for sharing of information –  is ideal for blockchain technology to greatly reduce the manual hours spent on the approval process or requests for additional clinical documentation.

In this use case, a “smart contract” is used to facilitate the prior authorization agreement between two or more parties. Blockchain and smart contracts effectively eliminate intermediaries (middlemen) from the equation by the decentralized system and exists with all permitted parties enabled to programmatically handle the negotiations. Interestingly, Ted Tanner shared how PokitDok built their blockchain ecosystem, “DokChain,” that aims to disintermediate parts of their own business where they act as middlemen between two parties. PokitDok is eliminating the middleman where efficiencies and scalability occur at a much lower cost.

Women in Health IT

Arguably, the most interesting audience question I heard asked why there are not more female panelists represented at the conference. After a smattering of uncomfortable laughter from the crowd, the panelists (all males by the way) concluded there is not a good reason for the lack of female representation and that should change for future events. One of the panelists brought the question home personally, sharing he is the father of daughters and it’s quite important to have women in leadership roles represented at conferences like HLTH. I’m guessing we will see many more female panelists at next year’s event, which will be great to see.

The only gripe I have about the conference is that it was hosted in Las Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Vegas fan, but after being there for HIMSS18 about a month prior, I was Veg(gassed) out. It would be great to see a different location used, especially for health IT conferences that seem to always host in Las Vegas. The size of HLTH would be more conducive to cities that offer a more reasonably priced (and liver healthy) experience for all attendees. Something to consider in the future. Regardless of location, I will be in attendance next year. It’s well worth the price of admission.


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