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HealthFront 2021: The event is back and better than ever
The environment for conferences has been challenging, to say the least. The PHM HealthFront had a hiatus in 2020, but will come back, better than ever in 2021 as a hybrid event – with both in-person and virtual components. There’s still a lot to learn as we lean into this new conference format, but some good examples are already in the books, including CES.
CES has long held the title of world’s largest trade show and its role as a technology showcase is unapparelled. Colan McGeehan, PHM Chief Investment Officer, spoke with Robin Raskin, CES’ content producer, founder of Living in Digital Times and The Virtual Events Group to break down the highlights from January’s program and expectations for the future.
Colan McGeehan: As a long-time CES attendee, I’ve been shocked by how massive the health tech section had become over the years, it had taken over an entire wing of the convention hall. What do you think about the format this year?
Robin Raskin: I consulted this year and thought that the conference content was really good, but what was lacking was interactivity. Sessions were taped way too early. [This makes it hard to have current content in an industry and time with rapid change]. My personal choice would have been to do it live. Q&As were missing, as were smaller meetings and exhibit space.
Guided tours were also missed and could have helped boost exhibit traffic.
CM: Do you think exhibitors were getting the value they signed up for?
RR: Yes and no. This year I [told exhibitors] to just spend on TV production and they’ll survive. Next year in a hybrid environment, you’ll have to spend on cleanliness and video production. Live is getting to be expensive and hybrid will be expensive. You will have to tease out your masses from your VIPs – they have different needs. VIPs may show up in person because they have needs and goals that can only be accomplished that way, and the 20 other people [in the company] that would have gone are going to attend virtually.
CM: What’s your prediction, will CES be going hybrid next year instead of fully live?
CM: HealthFront is also going through this analysis of how to pull off a hybrid event – safety, security and community. Cannes is planning to go fully live in June and I applaud that, it really sets a standard for everyone else. What other kind of changes will you see with the in-person element?
RR: Possibly smaller events, without packed keynotes and meeting rooms. Marriott has done some interesting things around planning for this with meeting room capacity and product handling. I’m thinking unusual name badges [like a face mask that flashes names and titles in lights], temperature checks, a digital health passport… this will be huge. The airlines are working on one, the World Economic Forum is working on one. You will have to have something in your hand saying you’re COVID-free. That is going to be another cost of doing business that will have to be borne by someone.
CM: What do you think needs to happen outside the established norm in events?
RR: There are all these new tools coming out to create serendipity, and I think an event has to feel really organic. Bring in some local flavor and talent. You want to give attendees an element of ‘you’re not just sitting in a room at a hotel, you’re helping us revive our economy.’ We want people to feel appreciated.
One of the best events I’ve seen all year had five stages going at once, some were workshops where you learned a skill, then every so often [there would be] a mingle based on an AI that matched you up. You could add icebreakers, not everybody can walk into a room with a stranger, in person or virtually. There is so much experimenting going. Nothing is expected.
CM: One of the things I don’t miss is the speed dating type of thing. Clearly the purpose of CES, besides seeing the tech innovation and being in Las Vegas, is business. I’m curious if you think there’s the same level of B2B discussions going on?
RR: Toy Fair is a good example of one done well. They built a B2B showcase and each day hosted a different type of programming – small vendors one day, large mass retail accounts another. You need a different environment to do B2B now. Your exhibit area needs to have a dedicated B2B part, with sales and orders being taken. It’s important to have sales people involved from day one, so they can articulate product information and availability in a unique setting.
There’s this social imperative in health now. Telehealth is really just a HIPAA compliant phone call, but I think there will be some solutions that can mine data and turn it into more useful solutions. I call it DIY health, which is going to escalate.
CM: What were some of your favorite tech products?
RR: I was happy to see that sexual health is [now] just a form of health. CES always said they wouldn’t include cannabis until all 50 states approve it, but that hasn’t happened and products were included this year. It tells me that people wanted it.
There’s something I call DIY health. Telehealth add-ons that facilitate an exam, like scopes. Something that can check my gut enzymes at home. I think the doctor’s office is going to be a relic pretty soon. My CVS gives me better information, so do the tools I buy. You can do it better yourself, continuously rather than intermittently. You can monitor, you’re a patient of one, but also part of a pool of people who can benefit from your information (anonymously).
I sit on a CES board for senior tech, so things that help you stay at home longer, that let you keep your dignity, I get excited about.
CM: When CES comes around next year, do you think it will be different, even if only by the nature of not being together in the planning process? Isn’t some of the creativity lost?
RR: No! I was blown away and so surprised this year. Here I was, in my isolation, I couldn’t even put my pants on and somehow 1,800 exhibitors built new products. I think they were amazingly creative and built into them things we would never have gotten before [like sanitation and health checks]. I think we’ll be using some of these products on display, developed to address the pandemic, at next year’s show.
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