HMPS24 Conference Recap: Rapid healthcare technology and role change

April 25, 2024

The recent Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit (HMPS24) in Las Vegas was perhaps the first North American consumer healthcare conference since 2022 where a clear narrative of industry change seemed to be coming together among the leading healthcare marketers—after some murky years! The previous period felt like a free-fall for digital team leaders, but at HMPS24, you could sense the industry starting to sharpen its game, facing its harder realities, and building a constructive way forward—despite challenges from nearly every direction. There was a strong sense of clarity, and new, compelling narratives in the wind.

Getting past the financial results of 2022/2023 and regulatory changes related to HIPAA of those same years (which paralyzed many digital teams and clamped down capital spending), there was a strong sense of community emerging around two key themes:

1. Generative AI healthcare realignment

The impact of generative AI on nearly every aspect of healthcare practice was a major topic of discussion—from treatment planning and chatbots to web content development and security considerations. The sophistication of the discussion had leapt forward, with attendees expressing a shift from fearing job displacement to a focus on acquiring necessary skills. In fact, at times there was an (often poorly grounded) sense that AI might in fact be the solution to all consumer healthcare’s problems, a flip in the narrative to the other extreme from six months ago when conversations about AI were entirely about job security.

The intense focus on AI had many upsides. Despite the risk of AI overload or whiteout from endless sessions, there was a lot of substantive discussion of how AI was being used already from telemedicine and treatment room co-pilots to the opportunities afforded by larger data sets to better align hospitals with reality. Understanding where organizations were having success or challenges obviously has the potential to save a lot of time on experimentation.

Notably missing were serious discussions of advanced personalization and AI (possible in a HIPAA-safe way from the more sophisticated platform vendors) and clear solutions for conversational UI that would take fuller advantage of LLM-like flexibility, showing these parts of the industry to lag other regulated, privacy-centric industries. Understandably risk-averse healthcare payer / providers might not have gotten there yet, but both vendors and practitioners could have done a better job of making these more difficult areas of digital practice come alive.

A final comment, in this commentator’s opinion, it was noticeable that speakers were more accurate in their descriptions of what generative AI can achieve, rather than its limitations. Perhaps in trying to make this mind-bending subject easier to handle, there were many proclamations about the limits of AI that seemed short-sighted (of the current moment) or missing its extreme flexibility—especially when discussing the rate of change and role impacts. Even the best AI speakers at the conference (for instance Kaveh Safavi) seemed to be far too quick to ascribe hard limits to near-term practice, by way of reassurance. There were many statements particularly about how doctors and AI would collaborate that seemed naïve relative to the rate and power of dramatic month-by-month improvements on substance and the appetite for better outcomes and patient throughput.

In general, the whole topic of AI is like a litmus test for everyone’s imagination, and those trying to practically address the near-term and mid-term impacts in healthcare are caught in a war between what seems likely in a common-sense way—and the reality that AI capabilities are quickly and definitive moving us into terra incognita.

2. Seismic CMO & departmental realignments

For more than a decade the role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO’s) office has grown beyond brand and market strategy and come to encompass a great deal of technology acquisition—becoming almost a shadow I.T. department—and often taking a lead role in the development of digital systems for patients. This was no doubt due to an awareness that the CMO’s team was the site of the best resources for resources that would be in a competitive experience ballpark, or managing vendors where experience was important. This led to a long period where digital experiences in U.S. consumer healthcare improved, and technology use became increasingly nimble, but paradoxically in many cases did not lead to the kind of thoroughgoing digital transformations that are found in other industries, which require a greater focus on customer data and complex experiences to drive the experiences.

Arriving at 2024, the circumstances have changed considerably with the interaction of pervasive hospital capacity issues (complicating a large part of marketing), the shift to patient communication from COVID-19, and the patient loyalty problems that have dogged the industry are clearly requiring more than “pure message or marketing” solutions. These factors have both changed how organizations view marketing, put a different spin on digital experience, and All of these forces bearing down on the CMO role and marketing team are causing it to adapt and splinter. We see three main paradigms emerging in response to these pressures:

In some cases, CMOs are being somewhat displaced, as new roles (Chief Experience Officer, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Transformation Officer, etc.) emerge in the C-suite and reframe the way organization structure governance around digital experiences and consumer-facing projects. The implication of these moves—when they work—is to move experience/technology/business collaboration to center stage, rather than attempt transformation as an outgrowth of one or another silo. Frankly, this adds value if and only if the person in the role can speak the languages of their colleagues fluently and wield a motivating vision. CMOs in this instance may still have strong impact, but their sphere of influence may also contract.

In other cases, CMO is no longer a role. This is a minority move, but has been recently written about extensively (especially by Chris Bevelo), five major healthcare organizations completely removed the CMO role in the aftermath of COVID, in some cases contracting it to be a special function of corporate communications. In combination with #1 above, this can mean a true turning of the tide, where the intersection of technology and patient (or physician) experience is values as an end independent from the practices that get us there. However, in the absence of a CMO, marketing and brand are potentially under-valued, as the competitive pressures are even higher in these challenging times, and in the wake of competitors own digital transformation work.

Last, CMOs are finding larger titles that expand their purview. In many ways this is a natural correction to what the CMO has become where the title is still part of the culture—the CMO’s balance between brand, strategy, experience, and their very own “mini-I.T. department” of SaaS vendors and developers. One of the most effective CMOs I know negotiated their title to be “Director of patient access AND Chief Marketing Officer.” Note the sequence, and the importance of establishing purview over one of the most important aspects of digital transformation. This sorts of “role extensions” may bring the role closer to reality, build the appropriate lines of influence, and allow the organization to avoid a high risk restricting when they have someone of vision in the role.

Outside of the changes to the CMO role, it was clear at the conference that multi-team collaborations between I.T. and marketing teams were getting a renewed focus and cultural spring-cleaning, with many discussions of new ways of working, defining roles, and bridging the different cultural values. The idea of Product Owners multi-skilled enough to transcend those silos was also very much in play; all development that show maturation of healthcare digital transformation and echo at a team level the kinds of dynamics being sorted out at a leadership level.


All of this was much fodder for discussion in the halls of Caesar’s Palace (the Los Vegas venue for HMP24) this April, and there was clear movement towards a different level of sophistication. It’s clear that U.S. healthcare is having a second digital moment, one that will change the technical platforms, roles, and ways of working we are used to, and create new opportunities for alert people who understand the changing business of consumer healthcare. As always, Valtech Health is glad to be there, analyzing the changes and amplifying the visions of the organizations that are pushing ahead of these waves.

Navigating Generative AI and operational change in healthcare?

At Valtech, we have decades of experience within U.S. consumer healthcare. Our approach is rooted in a deep understanding of the technology and a commitment to addressing the unique challenges for patients, payers, and providers. From strategy to execution to support, we are a preferred partner for digital transformations. As the landscape evolves, so too does our strategy, ensuring that our healthcare partners are always at the cutting edge of practice.

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