The Sun Sets on Another HIMSS: Five Thoughts from Orlando

March 3, 2014
From the continued dispute over the meaningful use and ICD-10 regulations to the rising tide of consumer-facing technologies made with actual consumers in mind, HIMSS14 gave me a lot to reflect on. Here a few things I’ll take away from my five days in Orlando.

Once again, it has come and gone. Another year, another HIMSS conference.

As much as we build up to this event in healthcare IT, it always amazes me how quickly it goes by. Sure, the week itself always feels pretty long and hectic when you’re in the thick of it. Realistically though, HIMSS will be just a memory in a few weeks, a blip on the radar. We’ll have moved on to the next big thing.

For many CIOs—those who are absolutely crazed as our editor-in-chief Mark Hagland likes to say—it probably is already in the rear-view mirror. Me? I’m still in reflection mode. Here are a few things I’ll take away from HIMSS14 in beautiful, sunny Orlando.

  1. The “fight” continues:  One of the themes I noticed from this past year was the contentious debate between various stakeholders who oppose the deadlines of meaningful use and other mandates and the folks from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), and other government agencies. I thought that may have been last year’s story, but I was wrong. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and others continue to push for added flexibility to the 2014 meaningful use deadlines. Government officials, like CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, R.N., and National Coordinator for Health IT, Karen DeSalvo, M.D., continue to push back. It was prevalent throughout HIMSS14, as our astute Assistant Editor, Rajiv Leventhal observed.
  1. Speaking of “fights”: The big HIMSS story in New Orleans, in 2013, was the emergence of the CommonWell initiative, which included several major electronic health record (EHR) vendors, save for the Verona, Wisc.-based industry giant, Epic, which may or may have not been initially included. Later that year, Epic became one of the founding members of the Healtheway initiative, which has similar goals to CommonWell in terms of data interoperability. Well wouldn’t you know, both groups “bulked up,” if you will, at HIMSS14, making dueling announcements about expansion. Only a handful of organizations are members of both. But really, all of this “fighting” has got me thinking and wondering one simple question to all those involved:          
  1. Consumer-facing technologies for consumers: I met with the folks from Mana Health at HIMSS—the guys who are designing the patient portal for the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC; the nonprofit behind the statewide health information exchange). They and the NYeC represent a trend that seems to gaining momentum in healthcare IT—making consumer-friendly apps and products with the patients in mind. That’s actually how Mana Health became connected to the portal, winning a design contest and going through a request for proposal (RFP) with a user-friendly design. It’s a novel idea, but as Alexandra Cohen from NYeC said to me, too often this kind of software is usually from the mind of a product manager or an engineer. No one asks the patients. It seems that concept is changing for the better.  In fact, if you saw Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini’s keynote speech, you would have heard him say something to this effect.
  1. Interoperable is in: The interoperability showcase at HIMSS is a sight to behold. One step on that floor and you’re in a world of standards, data exchange, and connectivity. These topics were top of mind for everyone at HIMSS this year, but especially in this hall on the far end of the exhibition floor. I went there to visit the folks from the National Association for Trusted Exchange (NATE), which is a new nonprofit aimed at enabling data exchange, developed from a project supported by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). They, along with a few vendors, showed me real-world scenarios in which patients use personal health records (PHRs) and Direct to communicate with providers. It was overwhelming and I almost feel as if the whole showcase could have been its own conference (and I’m sure it is, knowing how many conferences we have in this industry).
  1. Don’t hide: Hillary Clinton’s speech on the Wednesday of HIMSS is one that I’ll probably never forget as long as I live, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it was good. She really knew her health IT and was able to converse on the big issues affecting this industry and its stakeholders. It was twenty minutes and didn’t feel long at all. I’ll refrain from going in-depth because Hagland was able to recap that speech here. I’ll also never forget Clinton’s speech because we almost didn’t get to cover it as media. Indeed, the HIMSS organization told press on the morning of her speech they couldn’t cover the speech as press, as per an agreement with Clinton. As we found out later (also relayed in the article from Hagland), HIMSS was conveying the message and had no plans to enforce it. Still, the whole thing was fairly odd, especially considering that the former Secretary of State gave a great speech that hit on a number of points. Why would she want to hide that? It seems petty and pointless.

Oh well! All is well that ends well. See everyone next year in Chi-town!

Please feel free to respond in the comment section below or on Twitter by following me at @HCI_GPerna

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