By Tony Schueth, Editor-in-chief
We say this every year, but the annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) is, hands down, the best place to catch up on vendors, clients, stakeholders and doings by the federal government in the area of health information technology (health IT). While attendance at HIMSS16 in Las Vegas was relatively flat, it sure didnt feel like it.
The Point-of-Care Partners team used its time productively through face-to-face consultations, attendance at presentations, discussions with exhibitors and investment of a lot of shoe leather.
Consequently, we feel compelled to break a cardinal rule: not all of what went on in Las Vegas is staying in Las Vegas. Here is what the POCP team heard at HIMSS16.
1. The little guys got invited to the table. Historically, HIMSS has been dominated by large electronic health record (EHR) and revenue cycle vendors. HIMSS16 included two major exhibit halls featuring innovations by smaller companies and start-ups. The number of participants in these halls and the cool technology we saw shows theres plenty of room for innovation. We look forward to seeing more of these kinds of companies next year, as well as what kind of traction this years innovators had achieved.
2. Telehealth hits the big time. Weve been saying for several years that telehealth is poised for broad growth. We feel validated because developments in telehealth technologies were a major focus of HIMSS16. For example, WebMD is entering this burgeoning arena, while Teledoc and American Well are expanding their offerings.
3. Behavioral health is getting connected. Vendors focused on behavioral health services were newly evident this year – and in a big way. We believe this prominence marks a growing overall interest in ‘and need for’ technologies to address the high cost and disjointed care of patients with various behavioral health issues in communities, long-term care facilities, hospitals and installations caring for military personnel.
4. Expect more specialty-related EHRs. Behavioral health EHRs are demonstrative of the growth in specialty-specific EHRs. These continue to gain in popularity and are benefiting from the robust replacement EHR market as specialists abandon general purpose EHRs for systems designed specifically to their unique work flows.
5. MU3 was MIA. We were surprised to see that meaningful use (MU) stage 3 was not on anyones lips at this gigantic meeting of EHRs and provider organizations. This may be because many stakeholders believe it is dead and have moved on. Not so fast, though. MUs death has been greatly exaggerated, as MU3 has effectively been folded as a component of the new Medicare Incentive Payment System (MIPS). (For details, see our article in the February 2016 issue of HIT Perspectives). A quarter of MIPS incentives in 2019 will be based on ‘meaningfully using certified EHRs.’ The big catch is that 2019 incentives will be calculated based on 2017 provider activity. The government has yet to roll out any specifics as to what will be measured to demonstrate meaningful use. In the meantime, vendors and providers will need to pay attention to MU3 requirements to avoid potential lost incentives or even penalties.
6. There seemed to be fewer major announcements. HIMSS traditionally has been the place for major announcements about new initiatives and products. There were some, but not as many as in the past. Maybe its because the emphasis seemed to be less about new announcements and more about communicating with a big audience. Maybe it’s because HIMSS has gotten so big and overwhelming that announcements tend to get overshadowed by the enormity of the event. An example is the annual Report to Congress on Health IT Progress by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Its release always garners major trade press coverage, but not this year. We expect to see companies making up for lost time by rolling out their big announcements in the next few weeks, when they will get more attention from the media and audiences alike.
7. Yet some big announcements were made. Despite the size of the meeting and the noise surrounding it, some big initiatives were unveiled. These primarily were from the federal government and included:
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell announcing an industry initiative to further health data interoperability, information sharing, and patient engagement. More than a dozen professional organizations, the five largest health care systems in the country, and electronic health vendors representing a sizable percentage of the US EHR market have agreed to implement three core principles to: 1) reduce information blocking, 2) increase patient access to their own health data and 3) embrace national interoperability standards, including those related to privacy and security.
The Medicaid program is making funding available to promote health information exchange (HIE) and encourage the adoption of certified EHR technology by Medicaid providers. ‘Seriously, this really is a B.F.D.,’ tweeted Jon White, MD, ONC’s acting deputy director.
The ONC and the HHS also made a variety of announcements: a Proposed Rule to Support the Reliability, Transparency, Accountability, and Safety of Certified Health IT; the availability of $625,000 to spur the development of market-ready, user-friendly software applications for consumers and health care providers; and a new model privacy notice.
8. There were no new buzzwords this year. HIMSS meetings usually have a dominant buzzword or two. Last year, they were ‘precision medicine’ and ‘FHIR’ (Fast Health Interoperability Resources), which was showcased as one of the newest in HL7’s family of standards. Previous years’ buzzwords were ‘interoperability,’ ‘transparency,’ ‘patient engagement,’ and ‘Big Data.’ Those catchphrases and concepts didn’t disappear this year; there just wasn’t one big, new one that took over the meeting. Rather, stakeholders spent a lot of time explaining how these concepts have emerged from the idea phase and are being translated into action.
9. Data analytics is still going strong. Hype around Big Data was the rage for awhile. The enthusiasm for the buzzword thankfully cooled, but the appetite for translating data into actionable information has not. This was evident at HIMSS16, where it was clear that the usual and not-so-usual suspects were turning their focus to clinical data rather than concentrating on selling software. Nontraditional health companies like Dell, Google and IBM are staking their claims. Others are reinventing themselves to make another run at this opportunity.
10. Nontraditional stakeholders had a bigger presence. Pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and biotechnology firms continued to have an expanded presence at HIMSS16. While these stakeholders did not understand the usefulness of HIMSS in earlier years, they have seen the light and their attendance has steadily increased. We saw them at HIMSS16 on a mission to learn and absorb the details and benefits of health IT.
See you next year in Orlando!