Insights from HIMSS17: Industry Leaders Share Their Observations and Key Takeaways

March 1, 2017
During HIMSS17, industry stakeholders spoke with me about health IT innovation, and they also shared their insights about this year’s conference from their specific perspectives, and with their particular priorities in mind.

The HIMSS17 conference officially came to a close Thursday, and, once again, speakers, exhibitors and attendees all gathered, this time in Orlando, to discuss how health IT is enabling healthcare organizations to improve patient care and lower costs. There was a lot of discussion about the potential for emerging technologies—artificial intelligence and blockchain, just to name two—to ”change the game,” as IBM CEO Ginni Rometty mentioned in her keynote address on Monday. And, of course, there were plenty of conversations and presentations about the ongoing challenges that healthcare IT leaders face, whether related to federal policy or changing payment models and the increasing cybersecurity threats as well. During my four full days at the HIMSS17 Conference and Exhibition, I spoke to a number of industry stakeholders, both from the vendor side as well as the provider side, about health IT innovation, and they also shared their insights about this year’s conference from their specific perspectives, and with their particular priorities in mind.

Below are some of the interesting observations and takeaways that these industry thought leaders shared with me:

Hussein Syed, chief information security officer, RWJBarnabas Health (West Orange, N.J.):

“A good thing that I see at this year’s conference is that there is a lot of security technology vendors at the show. They [exhibitors] have all kinds of cool, newer technologies that are being built that they are bringing into the healthcare market. That’s something that is quite interesting to me, that they are making an effort to be here and talking not only to the IT people, but also more of the clinicians and more about medical data management.  I’m impressed by the innovation that’s taking place within the traditional vendors as well.”

Brian Levy, M.D., senior vice president, global operations, Health Language, at Wolters Kluwer Health:

“One of the themes we’re seeing at this show is the need to be interoperable. I think we’ve all come to realize that Meaningful Use was successful at adopting EMRs [electronic medical records], but not so successful at interoperability. IT achieved interoperability for interoperability’s sake, but nobody is really doing something with the data yet. That is what the industry is trying to move to. To actually be interoperable to receive the data and then do something; there is a need to do analytics, a need to do quality reporting and what you need to do for MIPS. It’s all about what you can do with the data.”

Manu Varma, business leader, hospital to home and Wellcentive, Philips (Boston):

“Up until the last few years at HIMSS, there is always two or three buzzwords in the industry and when you walk the show floor, it’s amazing as every vendor does all of those things. And how is that possible? I think this year, I do sense the buzzword frenzy is down. I see more complexity and complexity in the sense that people have unique different messages that they are talking about many different things and they are talking about real results more and people are talking about innovation more. Instead of just saying, ‘I also do patient engagement, I also do population health,’ or whatever the word of the day is. I see that as a positive sign because it shows that the industry is maturing. People are finding their strengths and finding their value proposition, and really focusing on that, instead of a vanilla market.”

Deb Dahl, vice president, patient care innovations, care management, Banner Health (Phoenix):

“I’m seeing similar themes [as Varma mentioned], but the difference in what the word ‘predictive analytics’ or ‘population health’ or ‘innovation’ means, is quite different from booth to booth. So, someone might be talking about innovation and for me that means ‘I’m doing process improvement’ and at the next booth, talking about innovation, and what they mean is ‘We’re working with our physicians to find really cool new tools and then help them get to market with a new surgical tool’ and then, at another booth, innovation is, ‘I’m interested in the care delivery, and how am I going to improve the clinical care continuum?’. So you have to get past the accelerated discovery words that we see right now, to what does that mean to you as a vendor or as a provider?”

Ed Ricks, CIO, Beaufort Memorial Hospital (Beaufort, S.C.) on what he is focusing on now:

“We’re looking at some direct-to-consumer things that help us to extend our reach. It’s not [an investment in] building bricks and mortar, as capital is hard to come by, but we still want to be able to reach people more frequently and more easily, and more conveniently for them. Anything that we can do to extend our reach through technology, if that’s the answer, we’re looking at. That’s a big priority for us. We’re working really hard on getting all of our information into one EMR. It’s not completely possible, but that’s a major effort for us. Those are two key initiatives right now.”

David Finn, health IT officer, Symantec (Houston, TX) on cybersecurity issues:

“I think the common theme is, ‘we don’t have the budget, we don’t have the staff,’ so we see a lot of vendors that could help solve that problem. In our cybersecurity survey, we drilled down into the budget numbers and there was an uptick in spending, but the biggest uptick was really on the operating side. What we’re seeing is a reflection of that on the trade show floor with people saying, ‘I have to do this, it’s really a business problem, but I don’t have the budget and I don’t have the people, and even if I can hire the people, I’m not going to be able to keep them.’ So we see people going to outside vendors to manage security services or consultants who can help them with that big risk assessment the first time so they can start to manage it, or develop a strategy. Because for so many years in healthcare, we bought point solutions. That strategy of buying one-off solutions for a specific problem won’t work anymore. You have to understand what’s going on with your data, from how it gets into your organization to who’s using it inside to where they are sending it and how they are using it when they send it off outside the organization. So that’s part of that reflection. People are realizing that ‘yes, we have to do it, we can’t do it ourselves and we need this help’.”

Gregg Mohrmann, director and practice leader, informatics and technology, Chicago-based consultancy The Chartis Group (based in Philadelphia):

“What I’m seeing is a lot around analytics and how it’s going to drive value to not only the providers but the linkage and convergence between the payers and the providers. A bit around population health, and not necessarily population health just from a segmentation perspective, but rather how you bring in social determinants into that and how you put population health on steroids, to the next level. Seeing a bit on integrated care delivery, but more so on the tool sets that support that; tool sets that will improve the consumer experience not only for the providers, but also for the patients, whether that be mobility applications, ways to do better customer relationship management, ways to do get better access quicker and in different formats, whether access is telemedicine, telehealth, tele-presence, the medical home.

From the exhibit floor, there are a lot of conversations around how is IT more at the table with the business executives. And there is a flavor on that. I see the IT executives much more with business executives with them, in tow, that they are shepherding through the exhibits and presentations. That is a very good trend. That means that IT is really enabling the business, and they realize that, and they are investing the time to come, and looking at solutions that really are going to drive the business value.

And, I’m seeing people coming off the waves of the EHRs [electronic health records]. We have a lot of the EHR vendors here, but what does optimization, what does driving value from your EHR really mean? I don’t think anybody has nailed that, by any means. How do you mine for optimizing value from this big investment that you just made? How do you drive decisions around that, because you only have a limited set of resources? I don’t think anybody has really nailed that. There is no technology for that. That’s a business theme around that.”

Jon Duke, M.D., director of health data analytics at Georgia Tech Research Institute (Atlanta) on what he saw at HIMSS17:

“A continued growth around interoperability and where FHIR might come into that. I think we’re starting to see more substantive pieces emerging from that. Clearly, when you look across the directory of what people are doing, the analytics space continues to be quite large, but I think it’s becoming more nuanced. I’m a big proponent of this notion of interoperable analytics. Interoperability is not just hooking up systems, but all the way through to the point of the stakeholders. You have to be able to identify and create interoperability at the data level, at the analytics level, and at the methods level, so you can share things. I think there’s going to be more of a movement towards work that can be piped in and connected to different systems so the API strategy, which will become the centerpiece of the health platform. I’m seeing more people saying ‘yes we’re going to expose more of our capabilities via API so that they can be integrated.’ I’ve been impressed at the progression we’ve seen with, for example, what people are doing with Watson and some people are doing with partners. It took a while to see how those particular strategies were coming together, it seems like some use cases are starting to emerge. It took a few years for people to see value coming out of it.”

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