HIMSS16 Preview: A Look Ahead with HIMSS’ VP of Informatics

Oct. 5, 2016
Joyce Sensmeier, vice president of informatics for HIMSS, gives her inside thoughts on what will be at the top of mind for health IT leaders at the conference.

With the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference just days away, there is certainly no shortage of things to look forward to and prepare for. Indeed, as the conference continues to grow, both in terms of attendance and quality, greater opportunity presents itself perhaps more than ever before as healthcare IT has been thrust into the center of overall healthcare considerations.

To help Healthcare Informatics’ readers navigate some of the inner happenings at HIMSS16 this year in Las Vegas, Vice President of Informatics for HIMSS, Joyce Sensmeier, recently spoke with HCI  Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal about what will be at the top of mind for health IT leaders at the conference. Sensmeier joined HIMSS as the Director of Professional Services in 2000, and has a deep background in nursing informatics. In her current role at the Chicago-based HIMSS, she oversees clinical informatics, standards and interoperability. Below are excerpts of the discussion between Sensmeier and Leventhal as they preview HIMSS16.

What do you think will be the most talked about topics/buzz at HIMSS this year?

One thing that seems to keep popping up is the idea of population health, really getting more at the analytics and outcomes. We have been implementing electronic health record (EHR) systems for some time, and now it’s time to reap the benefits of that. With accountable care on the horizon, it’s even more important to understand what’s impacting population health.

Another perspective is innovation, which you see all across the board. One of the areas that I work in is interoperability, and we are seeing newer standards such as FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) really creating interesting opportunities, but we also want to make sure it’s done well and done right. The Argonaut Project is one way of validating that, so you are seeing pilots around that. Innovation is important and exciting, but challenging in healthcare since you have patients’ lives at stake.  

Joyce Sensmeier

Interoperability is something that’s in your wheelhouse, obviously. What are your thoughts on how far the industry has progressed?

With our Interoperability Showcase as an example, you see the realization of the interoperability that is in place today, compared to last year when people said we didn’t have much in place. We do have a good foundation of interoperability, and we are able to build upon that in innovative and creative ways. One example we are showing in the showcase is APIs (application program interfaces)—organizations are very interested in seeing how they can leverage APIs to get at the data at the data element level, as opposed to sharing documents. That said, the ability to share documents and do what we have accomplished is also extremely important. We have made progress, but there is a whole other level to get to.

What is impeding more progress from being made quicker?

A few things happened in the last few months of 2015 that I think will accelerate things. One is the Interoperability Roadmap that ONC laid out. Having that core set to look towards the future of a learning health system and understanding that the person is at the center of that will give us a rallying point. My background is nursing, so I have always felt that the patient is at the center, but now it’s about moving it beyond the acute care setting. The Roadmap helped lay the foundation for that, and helped us set a course for the future. Next year, we will be changing our whole model for the Interoperability Showcase from a technical demonstration to a concept of a connected learning health system where the individual can access their information wherever they are, as well as the clinician.

Another thing that we haven’t had before is the best available standards guidance from ONC. We have had the mantra that standards are important and we need them in place for interoperability, but we have never had the guidance of what the best ones are. So we can all use the same ones and connect appropriately. Having that guidance and having it updated regularly is very important. It’s an opportunity for the industry to weigh in on that, which is also extremely important.

How closely does HIMSS work with federal agencies in structuring these guidelines and roadmaps?

Very closely; we do it from a number of levels. We have a government relations team that is focused on the federal sector relationships as well as Congressional relationships. There is constant dialogue there. We bring in our thought leaders for those conversations as well as the meetings with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. We are in continual communication with them. For instance, with one HELP committee proposed draft, they suggested that other clinicians should be documenting for physicians, and we got the opinions of nurses across the country, and we said that nurses’ workloads are already stretched out. They ended up changing the draft legislation as a result of our feedback. That’s just one example.

Another way we work with the feds is via the Standards Advisory. We convene a group of volunteers to go through the whole document, and those [folks] meet weekly. They review the document, they consider what recommendations should be made, and then we submit those comments based on that. It takes a bit of bandwidth of staff and then other volunteer members to offer that up. With the HIMSS stakeholder representation that we have, it’s exciting that we can bring that forward.  

Policy wise, what should we keep an eye out for at HIMSS16?

It is definitely CMS with value-based payments. That’s huge. Our typical attendee is realizing that the clock on that is very rapid. It is going to move quickly, and this is all going to start at the end of 2016. The time is now to get that going. [HHS Secretary] Sylvia M. Burwell will be co-presenting in the opening keynote, and it’s an unusual offering to have our keynote shared with the industry and the government, but it is exciting to be able to that all together in the sweet spot of HIMSS. But with MACRA/MIPS, all of what will have to be put in place to get clinical integration that allows us to see what makes a difference. How do we demonstrate get, and measure value? Many organizations have EHRs that are still perhaps fairly new and are not structured to get the right data out in the right way.

To wrap up, if you’re a CIO attending HIMSS this year, what should interest you most?

I think CIOs will have to get educated on the disruptive innovations that are happening. How will their systems be impacted by newer standards and APIs? What is the right timing for that and when will the standards be mature enough to implement in a healthcare environment? And on the policy side, what will be the implications of their systems because of MACRA/MIPS, and what will their vendors be able to deliver to them?

Also, we are very excited to have seven certified products for interoperability to be announced at HIMSS through our ConCert by HIMSS program. Vendors have implemented technical certifications in their products—both EHR and HIE (health information exchange) products. They have gone through a very rigorous testing process to be able to achieve this. So we will have awards around that at HIMSS. If I were a CIO, I’d want to be looking at products with those seals so they come with the interoperability I am seeking inside, and I don’t have to do custom interfaces on site to make that happen.