The Chief Content Officer for a New Healthcare Conference Shares Her Perspectives on Needed Conversations in the Industry

March 23, 2018
Constance Sjoquist, the chief content officer at HLTH, shares her perspectives on what it is that the HLTH Conference’s leaders are hoping to bring to the industry in Las Vegas in May

A new conference, “HLTH: The Future of Healthcare,” will take place May 6-9 at the Aria Resort and Casino hotel in Las Vegas. Healthcare Informatics is a media partner with the New York-based HLTH, an organization created a year ago, and which is focused on bringing forward a unique, c-level conference, for policy leaders, provider leaders, payer and purchaser leaders, pharmaceutical executives, vendor executives, venture capital funders, and many others connected to the future of healthcare, and which is the developer of the new conference.

HLTH is the brainchild of Jonathan Weiner, a well-known investor who has created similar conferences in the financial technology (fintech) sector. Weiner joined Oak HC/FT, described on its website as “a premier venture capital fund investing in early to growth stage tech-enabled companies investing in Healthcare Information & Services (“HC”) and Financial Services Technology (“FT”),” as a venture partner in 2014, after a stint as head of Global Business Development for Google Wallet and Payments, and a long track record of creating and managing new ventures in a variety of industries. As Weiner explains on HLTH’s website, “Healthcare needs its own forum. HLTH is my third industry-building initiative designed from the ground up around the technologies and trends that are completely reshaping how the ‘hard’ conversations take place and how actionable solutions are shared. Key to our approach is the inclusion of representatives from across the healthcare continuum that are providing tech-enabled services to drive efficiencies and better health outcomes. In attendance,” he notes, “will be key players, including providers, employers, policy makers, disruptive startups, established vendors, and leading investors. None of the companies—whether startups or established players—bringing these disruptive innovations to market have achieved their full potential. But the implications of their business models and the relentlessness of their teams mean that they will increasingly define the future of healthcare.”

HLTH was created in March 2017. One of its early hires was Constance Sjoquist as chief content officer. Sjoquist had served as an analyst at Gartner for a number of years. A July 2017 press release stated that “HLTH, the first-of-its-kind event covering the innovation in healthcare that is driving substantial reduction in costs and dramatic increase in quality, today announced Constance Sjoquist has been appointed Chief Content Officer. Sjoquist has extensive experience helping companies—payers, providers, employers, pharma, technology vendors, start-ups, investors, and government entities – navigate the complex healthcare landscape and reimagine their path forward.”

In the press release, Weiner stated that, “Given Constance’s deep healthcare expertise, she understands the most significant challenges facing the complex healthcare ecosystem today and has the ability to look outside the industry and reimagine what’s possible. For HLTH,” he said, “Constance is leaning on this ability and expertise to structure the event in a way that delivers value to each attendee, incites participation and spurs transformation. Her unique understanding of the people that need to be brought together will ultimately spur dialogue, partnerships and action that will drive the industry forward.”

Sjoquist spoke recently with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding the development of the conference, and its content. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Tell me about the origins of the conference, and how its content has taken shape?

I was introduced to Jonathan Weiner through a phone call out of the blue. He said, ‘Your name’s come up, you’ve written a lot in healthcare.’ This was over a year ago. He shared his background, and talked about how he had developed fintech content early on, such as around the use of debit cards in retail. And he developed TxVia, which was a mobile platform for mobile payment, for the Android; thinking about how fintech could solve problems for the unbanked. Google ended up acquiring that business, and he led Google Wallet development for a few years. He was an entrepreneur, investor, etc., and was always going to events to meet people, network, and so on. And he found it really unsatisfying that there were all these separate events, siloed events, within industries.

So he started a trade organization that’s still in place today, and eventually put together a marketing organization to promote investment in fintech. And he came up in 2012 with a new catalyst model for a fintech conference. He started out the conference with a hackathon, which is now the world’s largest hackathon in fintech. Within that structure, too, they created a blockchain hackathon before that was well known. And it’s called Money2020. And it’s still the one place where the CEOs, disruptors, incumbents, policy people, in fintech, anyone thinking of taking advantage of new ways of thinking, innovating, partnering.

So Money2020 was the model for the development of this conference. Money2020 has created a variety of mechanisms to ensure maximum interaction among attendees. They have double-opt-in, to help people determine whether an investment is the right fit. And they have a hosted buyer program, where procurement people will submit budgets, real timelines and needs, and we offer for them to attend at no cost, if they meet with six to eight companies. So all the sponsors of this event have an opportunity to meet with buyers. And that’s really valuable, because as you know, it’s really hard for the vendors to meet with the responsible people who might buy their services.

So Jonathan decided you needed to have this matchmaking component, but also content: the most forward-thinking content, with the highest level of professional title, so that people can hear from the people who will actually change the industry—the decision-makers and leaders. So, we’ll have over 100 sessions, over 300 speakers at the c level, in areas from technology, policy, strategy, new products—every speaker is chosen on their merit. We base it on merit: tell us what you’re doing that is innovative, disruptive, transformative, newsworthy. We bring on these 300-some speakers, put them into sessions—it’s like a bingo card of all the things that matter.

I was an analyst at Gartner, and had a pretty good perspective on the parts of the industry, the partners, the future elements that would hit us. So the content is what we lead with. The speakers are the evidence of the content. And media will come because there are all these amazing people who are going to announce things. And that means that people will be on their best game. And that all makes it a catalyst event. It’s a newsworthy experience that takes place over the course of four days. And Jonathan takes up all the hotel, restaurant space, meeting space, and this whole model is meant to say this is an ecosystem event, this is the industry as it’s going forward, and these are the meetings and types of content that have to take place for the industry to move forward.

And everyone who wants to participate steps up. And Money2020 started in 2012. And ShopTalk, the second event, put in place in 2015, is in its third year, on two continents, with all the important decisionmakers and disruptors, in retail digital commerce, with the same concept.

So that brings us to healthcare. After Jonathan left Google, he became a founder of Oak HC/FT, a VC firm, and they’re in fintech and healthcare in the US. They brought Jonathan on as one of their managing partners. They had invested in his business, so he became a partner in their fintech side, and as he was learning about healthcare, he asked, where do people go for their one catalyst event? There’s J.P. Morgan, but it’s kind of mayhem. I’ve been out there. And there are small events, like Health Evolution Summit. And then there are the big events, like HIMSS, AHIP, and 500 siloed events across different areas like Medicare, policy, etc. And so he decided to create HLTH.

And he shared with me the background of all of this. And I was writing about the things we should be doing in healthcare. I was writing things in healthcare that got the attention of a lot of the vendors and the VCs. VCs and investors would call me, asking how they could apply their particular solutions to healthcare. So I was helping the industry to understand that we could think about healthcare the same way we thought about fintech, retailing, etc. And we have these high-falutin’, high-tower ideas. But I was getting down to specifics in terms of the scope. People in the industry didn’t even understand the scope of the venues for solutions. I was writing white papers around the different areas, the different ways in which solutions could be used.

What really caught my attention was when Jonathan said to me, “In 2012, I created, in ShopTalk, the event I wanted to attend myself.” And I myself was always attending healthcare conferences that weren’t interesting enough to keep me off my smartphone. And when he said, “I want to create an event for healthcare that is the kind I’d like to attend,” I said, “I’m in.” People want something new, and they’re very ambitious for change. But there’s been no venue for this. People sort of point to policy as the problem, when that’s simply not true; you can change policy, by the way. There are a lot of educated people in healthcare. We don’t need to belabor the fact that there are problems. We need speakers to stop telling us what’s wrong.

I don’t need to be educated. Instead, I’m going to give you ten minutes to share with the audience what you’re doing to change things—a mini-TEDTalk. Take off your title, your brand, your agenda, and tell this audience what you would do to change healthcare. And if you can’t articulate that, you probably won’t be back here next year. And everybody’s been asked to put something on a list that we’ll put out to media, announcements. And the announcements don’t have to be about product releases; they’re about ideas. We need to get the ideas out. And if we can do this in a series of iterations that can improve year over year, imagine how fast the industry can change towards what we all think is possible.

We’re an incredibly siloed industry. Even the tracks at conferences speak to that.

Exactly. And someone will say, “Well, I’m not policy.” But I’ll say, “I’m going throw you into policy, so you can speak with the HHS officials.” And I’ll also tell them, you don’t know who will be in the audience—investors, VC people, solutions people, policy people. And people may end up in the wrong room. I’m telling speakers we want people to feel they’re always in the right room. And the conversation has to be more systemic than ever. Don’t tell me about your AI [artificial intelligence] technology; I want to find out how AI technology is moving forward various payment models. So why something matters needs to be part of the conversation. In the end, we want to improve healthcare, to improve outcomes for people, improve the system. That’s the endgame.

Are you attracting audience from across the sectors of healthcare? And what size of audience are you anticipating?

Oh yes. We followed the blueprint of 2020 and ShopTalk, in that way. We’re hoping for a few thousand attendees this year, and to grow from there. Above all, we want the Who’s Who to be there. And I’m just amazed at the caliber of people registering; we’re seeing a very high level of attendee. Most people are chief-something; they have a title that warrants them attending at an event of this caliber.

We’ll also have people coming in from outside the industry—from companies like Uber, Lyft, Nokia, FitBit, Garmin, Comcast, Sodexo, companies not normally in healthcare, but know this is all related. We have people connected to the social determinants of health. That again goes back to this bingo card concept. In the end, how can I change healthcare? And you have to get people to stop saying what’s safe and to start saying what the problem and opportunity are. And if we didn’t have this risk-averse mentality, of course, we could move faster.

Healthcare has always been a risk-averse industry, broadly speaking.

Absolutely. Many CEOs are stuck, and they’re comfortable with it. There’s a good portion of the industry that doesn’t have to do anything, and the money still comes in. And Kodak is a good example of a company that didn’t pay attention to digital photography, and they were gone. Now they’ve come back as a digital company.

What kinds of conversations do you think attendees will have that will be different?

The reason I joined HLTH is, not only can I go to the event I want to attend, also, all these people who share new ideas, will be gathered together. And there will be so many presentations and conversations that attendees will be like, wow, I need to rethink where I invest, and where my organization is going. And in addition to the curated events for hosted buyers, etc., on top of that content, should leave people unsettled but also hopefully, super-excited about what’s possible for them going forward.

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