At World of Health IT-Barcelona, HIMSS’ Lieber Sees Forward Progress—on a Global Scale

Nov. 26, 2016
During the World of Health IT conference last week in Barcelona, HIMSS’s Steve Lieber sat down with Healthcare Informatics to talk about the (varying) pace of healthcare IT advancement across Europe—and beyond

In the midst of a buzz of activity at the World of Health IT (WoHIT) conference, being held last week in Barcelona, Spain, H. Stephen (Steve) Lieber, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), sat down to speak with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland about the World of Health IT conference, commonalities in terms of challenges and opportunities among healthcare IT leaders worldwide, and what the future holds. He also spoke with Hagland about the new partnership announced during WoHIT, between HIMSS and the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), in which CHIME will be a partner with HIMSS on international conferences such as the World of Health IT conference. Below are excerpts from that interview.

I’ve been told that there are about 1,000 attendees here at the conference? And how many vendor participants are there here?

Yes, that’s right, at the moment, we’re counting about 1,000 attendees—and about 45 vendor companies participating.

This conference has taken on different forms, correct?

Yes, essentially two different forms. There have been years where we’ve had a combined eHealthWeek and World of Health IT. We were in Riga, Latvia—a combined ministerial eHealthWeek and World of Health IT, last year. About the past five or six years, we’ve done a combined ministerial event and World of Health IT. So in June, we had eHealthWeek, that was the ministerial event; this is designed to be less focused on policy, and more on practice. The ministerial event rotates with the presidency of the European Union. Sometimes that works well, sometimes, it’s a smaller country, so we’ve separated them. But we’ve held an intermittent World of Health IT conference since 2006.

Steve Lieber

Tell me a bit more about your new partnership with CHIME?

We announced at the opening session today that HIMSS and CHIME have entered into an agreement, in which we will operate outside the United States as a single entity. So it’s the HIMSS staff that’s here—we have offices in the U.K., Germany, and Singapore. And we will present many things under a co-branding agreement. Of course, some things will remain particular to each organization. The EMRAM [the HIMSS Analytics schematic that describes and documents the evolution and advancement of clinical information systems in patient care organizations, both in the United States and worldwide] is HIMSS; EMR certification is CHIME [a CHIME process]. So we’ll present this as an event that is HIMSS-CHIME International.

HIMSS has really become totally international at this point, correct?

Yes, that’s correct; we’re operating actively in about 35 countries in the world now. We have things going on in probably 15 more, but those more one-off things. But yes, we have sustained activity now in about 35 countries.

On a personal level, you must be constantly traveling, Steve?

Yes, though I’m only the third-most traveled staff member! We actually have two staff members who travel more than I do!

When you look at information systems development and at the evolution of the roles of healthcare IT leaders, on an international level what are you and your colleagues at HIMSS trying to accomplish these days? Where are the opportunities for the association as an international organization?

The mission of HIMSS for a long time—that is, transforming healthcare through better patient outcomes, higher quality, fewer medical errors, and higher patient and clinician satisfaction—all of those are possible through the adoption of technology, and we’re just trying to extend that concept. And we’re not trying to proselytize from the U.S. to the rest of the world; we’re just trying to engage people all over the world, and are creating and developing events that allow people to share insights with one another and learn from one another.

It’s astonishing how similar the concepts are internationally, such as security; in the panel that I moderated on security issues around medical devices, the issues that were brought up really were fundamentally similar internationally, even as the policy landscapes differ by country. And the population health issues are fundamentally similar as well.

That’s right, exactly. And I’ve found that I can do virtually the same presentations anywhere in the world. And we don’t do much around payment per se, and that’s one area with differences. But when it comes to healthcare and what technology can do, it’s cost, quality, and access. Everybody thinks healthcare costs too much, and recognizes that the quality isn’t what it should be, and everybody has challenges getting the care that’s needed. In the U.S., that translates into insurance access. But even in other countries, there are access issues that are common across the world. People go to doctors, they get sick, they need care. And leaders in all the world’s health systems are struggling with fundamentally similar problems.

And the explosion in chronic illness is becoming truly global; I heard a presentation recently by an American consultant who is working in a major Middle Eastern country that has a surreal level of type-2 diabetes—over 60 percent of the population of one country!

That’s right, and you add to that the aging of the population, which is also global, and is even worse right now in Europe—yes, these issues are universal.

In a session earlier today, CIOs from hospitals and health systems in France, Belgium, and Italy expressed a level of consensus around a rather amazing set of similarities in terms of the issues that CIOs are facing across western Europe, issues that are similar to those being faced by hospital and health system CIOs in the United States.

Yes, it’s amazing what the commonalities are nowadays. And of course, we have representation at this conference not only from healthcare IT leaders from across Europe, but also from the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and the United States, of course.

Yes, one of the panelists this morning, a CIO from Peru, expressed similar sentiments as well. Meanwhile, what do you see happening in the next few years at these HIMSS-sponsored conferences, both the WoHIT conferences, and the eHealthWeek events?

The reality is that we’ve created something of an artificial marketplace here at our conferences; there isn’t yet a true pan-European market; all the countries are moving at different paces. And we certainly can measure the European market by the level of sophistication of different health systems here. Spain, for example, has one of the higher levels of IT adoption, of all the European countries. Germany, on the other hand, has a relatively low level of IT adoption; they really have not yet bought into the enterprise-wide EMRs that capture data from all sources. They’re still mostly in silos. There’s still an approach to healthcare that I’m going to equate to the United States ten years ago—in terms of IT. Another country that’s going to be a big surprise is Turkey—there’s a huge government effort in investing in EHRs there. We recognized a Stage 7 hospital this morning from each of the following countries: Turkey. Korea, Germany, Singapore, Spain--each now have one Stage 7 hospital. And so you’ve got different things going on. The UK market seems to be actually start to move, with the NHS recognizing that to solve their issues, they’re going to have to get smarter about the use of technology; meanwhile, the Nordics have a long history of adoption of technology.

Are you optimistic overall about the pace of change and forward evolution in healthcare IT, internationally?

Yes, I am. It’s interesting that when I started at HIMSS in 2000, the discussion back then, granted, this was in the United States, was, ‘Is IT worth it?’ But really, nowhere in the world is that a question any longer; it’s how to allocate the resources s and what to do first. So yes, I am optimistic about all of this. What’s more, HIMSS has contributed to this, and I’m proud of our contribution. And this is why I work for a not-for-profit. I’m motivated by trying to do good. So yes, I’m very optimistic about the direction, because there’s universal recognition of the value of IT. Now it’s a matter of how to do it, how to do it smartly, within the resources available. And it really is a journey.