Posted: 25 May 2023 5 min. read

A tale of two conferences: HIMSS and The Scottsdale Institute

By Maulesh Shukla, executive manager, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, Deloitte Services LP

I recently returned home to Mumbai, India after visiting four states, six cities, and two major industry trade conferences—The Scottsdale Institute Annual Conference and the HIMSS Global Conference. While the conferences were completely different—in terms of size, audience, and session topics—there was a common overarching theme: The health care and life sciences sectors appear to be undergoing a significant transformation that is driven by technology and consumers.

Digital transformation, machine learning, and health equity (see Health care can't afford health inequities) seemed to be among the most dominant topics at the annual HIMSS conference in Chicago last month (see our latest Health Tech Trends report). But if I am going to pick one topic that left attendees (including me) wanting for more, it was generative artificial intelligence (AI). Generative AI refers to programs that can use prompts from end users to create text or images. For instance, a physician might type in “does this patient’s health insurance require prior authorization for this lab test? If so, please write justification for that.” Rather than spending an hour on this task, generative AI might do it in seconds. Generative AI may also help address everyday issues for health care consumers. For instance, a consumer might use the technology to decipher technical jargon from an insurance company. However, as with other new technologies it may not be without its challenges. In all, the conference speakers agreed it is similar to the proliferation of the internet in the late 1990s—there are several use cases and benefits, but much depends on how organizations and consumers use it.

Some health systems are navigating multiple storms

Prior to arriving in Chicago for the April HIMSS meeting, I was in Arizona for the annual Scottsdale Institute conference, which is aimed at health care executives. While AI was a hot topic at both events, health care organizations seem to be just beginning to explore the potential (e.g., physician dictations, symptom checks, diagnosis referrals). There were also discussions about costs, privacy, and ethics related to AI.

C-suite executives from some of the largest US health systems attended the Scottsdale Institute conference. The sessions were focused on learning and helping health system leaders solve critical issues as they navigate their organizations through multiple storms (e.g., inflation, increased costs, shrinking margins, burnout among clinical staff, and supply chain challenges).

Here are four key topics that seem to be top of mind among health care executives:

  • Ongoing workforce challenges: Over the past few months, some large retailers have announced plans to shutter stores1 and several large technology companies have announced layoffs.2 As other industries shed employees, many hospitals and health systems are struggling to attract and retain staff (see Addressing health care's talent emergency). During the conference, there were several sessions that discussed creative strategies for addressing this workforce challenge. For instance, the chief nursing officer from a large health system discussed the introduction of career coaching sessions for 3,000 clinical and non-clinical professionals. These sessions helped curb attrition rates by 98% at the health system. During another session, the talent leader of a regional health system showed a 30-second commercial they launched to attract talent across local and regional media. The commercial focused on humanizing the staff by pledging care for their physical, mental, and spiritual needs through competitive pay, supporting education, and an inclusive environment.
  • Empowered consumers: There were some discussions about the future of primary care—and an increased focus on well-being and prevention—now that large online retailers are moving into the space through acquisitions.3 Health care consumers are generally taking on a bigger role in their own health and technology companies are working to improve the experience. Before the patient even becomes a patient, how can digital tools be used to keep consumers engaged? Attendees seemed to be in sync with that idea. There were also some discussions about care beyond the walls, such as hospital-at-home programs. The discussions mirrored findings from our recent collaborative study with the Scottsdale Institute on how digital health integration can both advance health care and address consumers’ needs before, within, and beyond health system walls.
  • Revenue diversification: In response to continued margin compression, some hospitals and health system leaders might have to make strategic choices—cut costs or diversify revenue. There was an acknowledgement among panelists and attendees that it can be difficult to increase prices, and few areas where costs can be cut. Some health plans and pharmaceutical companies have been able to diversify their revenue base by entering new lines of business (usually through acquisitions). Diversification can be much more challenging for health systems, which rely almost entirely on revenue from patient care. The CEO from a large health system noted that there are often few options to diversify. But there also was an acknowledgement that relying entirely on patient-generated revenue is likely not sustainable.
  • Technical debt as a barrier: A once-in-a-century pandemic, increasing consumerism, rapidly advancing technologies, and increased merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, has put pressure on some health systems to quickly implement new technologies. But technology is often installed piecemeal, which can sometimes create workflow challenges. Moreover, short-term fixes can be expensive and typically only serve as a bandage. This technical debt appears to be a widespread issue among health systems. The bigger challenge, as with any debt, could be the inability to invest in innovative technologies without first addressing the technical debt. This can result in missed opportunities and waste. There was a consensus among chief executives from three large health systems to “attack” rather than “defend” this debt by focusing on longer-term solutions such as more integrated, interoperable technologies, and cloud-based infrastructure. (See our report, Digital transformation in health care). 

With apologies to Charles Dickens, health care and life sciences organizations—over the past few years—might have experienced both “the best of times” and “the worst of times.” But after emerging from what could be described as a “winter of despair” the sectors might be entering the “spring of hope.” 

Latest news from @DeloitteHealth

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.


1 More than 2,100 stores are closing across the US, Business Insider, May 2, 2023

2 First quarter 2023 layoff tracker, Forbes, April 27, 3023

3 Amazon closes deal to buy primary care provider, CNBC, February 22, 2023; CVS now owns Oak Street Health, Fierce Healthcare, May 2, 2032

Return to the Health Forward home page to discover more insights from our leaders.

Subscribe to the Health Forward blog via email