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Biopharma Insights: Eight Takeaways from HIMSS 2017
It’s a wrap for this year’s annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). While some think it’s getting too big and overwhelming, we believe it’s still — without a doubt — the best place to catch up with vendors and clients and on doings by various stakeholders in the area of health information technology (health IT). The Point-of-Care Partners team used its time productively through face-to-face discussions with stakeholders, attendance at presentations, discussions with exhibitors and investment of a lot of shoe leather.
We will leave it to others to report the specifics of HIMSS17. That said, here are some of the highlights of what went on in Orlando and a look at what the health IT industry might see in the year ahead.
No news from the government. In previous years, HIMSS has been the launching pad for new government initiatives or the fleshing out of regulatory guidance. Not so in 2017. That’s not surprising since the key federal players in health IT were still in transition at the time of the meeting. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price had just been confirmed and barely moved into the Humphrey Building. Seema Varma — the Trump administration’s pick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — was in the middle of the confirmation process (she has since been confirmed). It is unknown who will be tapped to run the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) or its fate. [Since the meeting, we have learned that former Rep. John Fleming, R-LA, has been named deputy assistant secretary for health technology at HHS, a newly created position that could suggest an ONC reorganization is in the offing.] In terms of buzz about government programs, there was some talk about readiness for implementing the Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act and its Merit-based Incentive Payment System. Meaningful use popped up occasionally. There was a lot of speculation about the future of health insurance, what with changes to the Affordable Care Act in the offing. However, there was not the usual fever pitch associated with government programs at HIMSS17. It’s relatively quiet on the government front and things may not resolve for quite a while.
Adding artificial intelligence to make personalized medicine more, well, personal. IBM’s Watson Health was a big presence. It began with the opening keynote address by IBM’s Ginni Rometty, who, not surprisingly, spoke very positively about Watson Health. This is one of IBM’s big initiatives, which uses a cloud-based approach to store vast quantities of medical data and analyze them leveraging artificial intelligence. This approach will allow Watson Health to provide specific insights to hospitals, physicians, insurers, researchers and, potentially, even individual patients. IBM touts this as creating personalized health care on a very big scale. The IBM booth was packed as HIMSS17 attendees were trying to figure out how Watson Health works and what it could do for their organizations. Some wondered if it was overhyped and whether it would gain traction — especially in light of the news that broke just before the meeting indicating that the partnership between Watson Health and the prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center seems to have gone south. We’ll have a better picture of Watson’s status as the year progresses.
The Interoperability Showcase shifts gears. Interoperability continues to be another key concept in health IT. It was translated into reality by numerous vendors who strutted their stuff in the HIMSS17 Interoperability Showcase. Last year’s showcase seemed to focus on innovations by smaller companies and start-ups. The 2017 showcase emphasized practical ways to address work flow and functionality in electronic health records (EHRs). Epic seemed to be everywhere, although there was participation by some other major EHR vendors. They were almost saying, “Stop it already with this ‘information blocking’ baloney!”
Population health is a concept whose name shall not be spoken. Population health has been a buzzword at the last several HIMSS meetings. Many think the term is misunderstood — nobody seems to know exactly what it means — and overused. Maybe that’s why it didn’t seem to be on anyone’s lips at HIMSS17. That said, there was a major emphasis on practical solutions that would address issues related to population health with existing systems. Examples include improved and targeted clinical decision support and applications that could intercede with patients when gaps in care are identified.
Salesforce.com emerges in health care. Salesforce.com made a big splash at HIMSS17. Even though its platform is most widely used outside of health care, it claims to help companies engage physicians and patients. It remains to be seen if Salesforce.com can successfully penetrate the already crowded health IT world, but it’s gaining traction. More than a better mousetrap may be needed to take on the big guns like Epic and Cerner.
The forecast is not entirely sunny for the cloud. Everyone seemed to be talking about cloud-based applications at HIMSS17. In reality, evolution to the cloud has been slow in health care. The technology is stronger, smarter and less expensive than ever, but reliability and especially security remain big concerns in the conservative world of health IT. These may well be limiting factors for Salesforce.com.
Blockchain is the newest buzzword. Every HIMSS meeting seems to have a buzzword. Blockchain was it for 2017. Blockchain is a data structure that can be time stamped and signed using a private key to prevent tampering. Some may know it as the technology underlying the online currency Bitcoin. Those in health IT may recognize it from ONC-funded work on its use in health care. Last year’s Challenge program, for example, resulted in 15 white papers on the subject. Some people are still trying to get past the hype and figure out if the technology and its security features truly have legs in health IT.
The value of HIMSS is still there. This year’s meeting was not the largest, but the 42,000+ attendance for HIMSS17 certainly puts it near the top. As mentioned previously, some think HIMSS is too big and is losing its utility. If you’ve been around a long time, you’ll remember that’s why HIMSS split off its own meeting from the American Hospital Association’s annual meeting. We don’t think HIMSS has reached the tipping point yet. Despite its size, HIMSS is still useful and relevant. One measure is change in attendance cohorts. HIMSS used to be for hospital CIOs and their staff. Attendance continues to expand, with an increasing number of biopharmaceutical and payer types attending this year. There were also policy makers, start-ups and a host of others, as well. The face-to-face interactions are invaluable. In short, HIMSS offers a lot of bang for the business-to-business corporate travel buck.
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