HIMSS19 places health over hype

Like 40,000 of my health IT colleagues, I attended the annual HIMSS (Health Information Management Systems Society) Conference and Exhibition two weeks ago in Orlando. This was my tenth consecutive HIMSS event, so you might think little would surprise me.

However, this year’s event had a different feel than most. There was a sense of true optimism at this show — both for the state of the health IT industry and the future of healthcare at large. Moreover, this enthusiasm wasn’t mere hype. No, this year it seemed like the industry was finally gaining traction on several key issues and had a clear roadmap for getting to the next level.

The change in tone of this year’s HIMSS conference was palpable at the outset with the show’s Champions of Health Unite theme. Rather than using a forward-looking catchphrase to label the event, focus was placed on putting real healthcare leaders and visionaries in the spotlight.

This approach helped “put a face” on the health IT industry and provided attendees with a glimpse into the impressive things some of their peers are doing by leveraging IT to improve healthcare.

Interoperability — an itch we’re still trying to scratch

Perhaps the biggest news of HIMSS19 was delivered opening day (Monday, February 11) when Health and Human Services (HHS) along with  Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and  Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its proposed rule to improve the interoperability of health information.

The rule calls on the healthcare industry to adopt standardized APIs, which will help allow individuals securely and easily access structured Electronic Health Information (EHI) using smartphone applications. The ONC proposes the industry adopts Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) as the standard to which developers must certify their APIs in an effort to support an ecosystem for the secure flow of information. The rule also implements the information blocking provisions of the Cures Act to further support access to EHI.

This huge announcement helps empower patients to take control of their health information and become better partners in their care. It also was the central topic of discussion during Tuesday’s opening keynote featuring current and former government health IT officials.

“This rule is incredibly exciting because we’re not having a conversation about EHRs and how to unlock that data,” said Dr. Karen DeSalvo former National Coordinator for Health IT. “Instead, we’re talking about how to create the pull — how to implement technologies on behalf of consumers so they can drive the marketplace.”

While much still needs to be done to bring true interoperability to healthcare, a glimpse of the strides already being made could be seen at the HIMSS19 Interoperability Showcase. This venue featured several live demonstration areas where six to eight technology vendors collaborated to show how their solutions could be integrated to enhance clinical workflows and patient care in use cases ranging from cancer treatment to chronic disease management.

For more, check out my live blog from HIMSS19 that details an Enabling Cancer Moonshot demo presented at the Interoperability Showcase.

Patient-enabling technologies on display

There was much more than just the HHS interoperability rule for patients to be excited about at HIMSS19. Enhancements in several new patient-facing technologies were also showcased throughout the exhibit hall.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and innovations – including wearables and sensors – were prevalent, providing a real-time connection between patients and providers for at-home monitoring of chronic illnesses and a direct patient-generated data exchange. Mobile apps geared toward putting key health information or options (e.g. provider scheduling, lab results, prescription pricing) at the fingertips of patients were also well represented.

Even older concepts, such as telemedicine, once encumbered by reimbursement questions and cultural hurdles, had new life at this event. It seems like patients and providers alike may finally be ready to bring this technology into the mainstream by using it to improve access to critical specialized care (e.g. telestroke programs) or simply to improve delivery of routine care in rural areas or to support overextended physician offices.

AI: The new shiny object

It’s safe to say that artificial intelligence (AI) was the up-and-coming technology application attendees and exhibitors were most enamored by at HIMSS19. As expected, much of the conversation on this topic was conceptual rather than in practice.

However, the promise of AI in healthcare is real and its impact on clinical workflows and patient care could be as profound as we’ve ever witnessed. In fact, a recent article by Forbes dubs AI The Technology Penicillin Of The 21st Century.

Furthermore, the proposal by the ONC that FHIR be adopted as “the standard” for interoperability is being viewed as a potential gateway for AI and machine learning because it can be used as a foundational element when building tools that democratize data and AI.

Not all of the insights delivered on AI were forward-looking. Several real-world applications of the technology were showcased at HIMSS19 and some thought leaders chose to focus on the implications of the technology today rather than its potential impact in the future.

For example, In a session titled AI: Reactions From The Field, representatives from Hyland Healthcare, IBM WatsonHealth, and InterSystems provided sound advice for getting immediate value from AI by applying it to mundane tasks that can reduce waste and operational costs.

If HIMSS19 proved anything, it demonstrated that we’re living in an exciting time of healthcare innovation. While the industry may be considered a “laggard” when it comes to technology adoption, the needle finally seems to be moving. The next few years will be truly transformative when it comes to delivering better, more coordinated and more informed care.

Ken Congdon has expertise in the healthcare technology industry and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.
Ken Congdon

Ken Congdon

Ken Congdon has expertise in the healthcare technology industry and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.

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