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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Navigating a new reality: Conference highlights and reflections about the road ahead for healthcare

For me, a highly effective professional conference delivers on three things: inspiration, useful content and networking opportunities. This week the AHA Center for Health Innovation and the Society for Health Care Strategy and Market Development offered all three as part of their first virtual event: Navigating a New Reality.

I prefer in-person conferences, but with COVID-19 still impacting travel and in-person gatherings, virtual conferences are here to stay for at least the next few months and into 2021. Here’s what I think worked well and where we still have some opportunities for refinement as far as the format goes.

Worked well

  • The technology: I didn’t notice any issues with the platform and all presentations went off with only a few brief glitches.

  • The content: All speakers were excellent and the content was relevant, engaging and useful.

  • Sponsor resources: The white papers, videos and other assets offered by the event sponsors were really good. I downloaded many.

  • On-demand access: Being able to view the presentations immediately was great.


  • Networking: Although I did make some new connections, it was harder to do virtually. The discussion tables were a good idea, but I need to get more comfortable with them.

  • Social media: Attendees were not as active as they usually are. More real-time engagement in conversation via social media always makes conferences more fun for me.

  • Focus: One of the best things about a conference is being able to be away from work/home and focus on the conference. That’s really hard with the virtual format. I’m not sure there is an answer to that, but it’s something to consider. Here is a great resource article from Carrie Bennett on how to get the most out of your experience.

ICYMI: Daily summaries of the conference

Here is a recap of the daily highlights that I shared on LinkedIn.

Day 1

A clear theme of today’s event was that even though we are all physically separated, we’re all connected. We need to lean on each other and learn from each other. We need to support each other. This will help build our resilience and allow us to thrive no matter what the future brings. As speaker Mira Birdsong said, “If I want change to happen, I have to realize our interdependence.”

Keynote address from AHA Board Chair Dr. Melinda Estes and AHA Executive Director/CEO Rick Pollack:

  • “Nobody had COVID-19 on their strategic plan.

  • “COVID-19 has been both inspirational and maddening.”

  • “We are living through a crisis, but we can share the burden."

  • "We need to find solutions and support each other."

  • “Learning has never been so important.”

  • “Events like today prepare us to hit the ground running once the skies clear.”

  • “We need to believe that the future can be better.”

Day 2

Yesterday, we talked about being resilient and today we learned more about why that is so important. The financial challenges from COVID-19 will be with us for quite some time. The good news is that by understanding what’s likely to be on the horizon, we are in the best position to respond. And as we heard in the morning keynote, if you can safely deliver blood to hospitals in Rwanda by drones anything is possible!

  • "When you think about what COVID-19 brought forward it was the perfect storm. We need to think about how to prepare for a new world. We’ll be facing challenges for at least the next 12 months.”

  • "Up to 20 million lives could lose employer-sponsored coverage.”

  • "For every 1% increase in unemployment, health system revenue will likely decrease by 0.5 to 1%. We need to expect a 3.5-10% revenue decline.”

Ian Morrison:

  • "People losing insurance is likely a lagging factor. Payor mix will be affected."

  • "COVID-19 future scenarios range from a 'big bounce back' to “Armageddon.”

  • "Science will save us - we just don't know when."

  • "Use this time to make a case for change."

Day 3

The last two days established context for where our industry is now and outlined how we can prepare for the future. Today's conversations focused on how we meet patients where they are with what they need. The morning kicked off with a session exploring how Atrium Health set up a “virtual hospital” at home to supplement traditional operations and deliver better patient outcomes. This could be a game-changer for all hospitals, but especially those serving rural areas.

  • “What will be the next disruption? Unsure, but it will be focused on cost and access.”

  • “Be innovative or be left behind.”

  • "We’ll always need hospitals, but there will be migration to home and lower cost settings”

  • “COVID changed the nation’s healthcare expectations."

  • "Telehealth is not a genie going back in the bottle.”

  • "People are regaining confidence in healthcare, but we can’t rely on goodwill alone.”

  • "It's up to us to define Healthcare 2.0."

  • "Employees are the best brand ambassadors. They must buy in to how your brand is represented."


Thanks to everyone who took part in this event! I hope you will join us for the Bytes conference and next year in-person at SHSMD Connections in San Antonio.

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