HIMSS 2018 saw the presence of three of the largest tech companies in the world flex their muscles. The event itself is evidence that innovation is now a part of the healthcare bloodstream.
The 3 largest tech companies flex their muscles at HIMSS
Microsoft showcased Azure at HIMSS
Due to their rich health IT history, Microsoft has engaged with HIMSS in the past, but the company’s positioning in 2018 is noteworthy. A through line across its booth facilities, its engagements, and in 1:1 conversations was a focus on modernizing health IT via intelligent solutions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) certainly had a presence, but it was grounded in usable tools like Office 365 and Microsoft Teams. Any cloud reference had less to do with Azure itself and more to do with Microsoft solutions on the cloud.
AWS went big HIMSS
For the first time in its history, AWS went big with an impressive HIMSS booth. This major physical presence is the only major one in healthcare outside of their own re:Invent conference. AWS had a mix of solution architecture Q&A, presentations from its broad partner ecosystem, and demonstrations of healthcare-specific cloud solutions available on AWS. Its 2018 presence showed AWS cares about being active in health IT and AWS has a strong story to tell with both new digital health companies and enterprise health IT.
Google went all out at HIMSS
But then we have Google. It also spent big — much bigger than Microsoft or AWS. Google had a major booth, but also several keynotes and high profile sessions that all must have cost enormous amounts in sponsorships. Of the three, it’s easy to see through total spend and coverage that Google is making the biggest bet that its cloud offerings can help healthcare. The only problem is understanding the actionable theme Google had in mind. Is it looking to help hospitals migrate old systems to Google’s cloud? Is it trying to get AI adopted in enterprises? The most consistent message centered on helping smaller startups succeed, which is then curious why Google would spend so much money getting in front of hospital CIOs.
The aggregate observation is big tech is looking to spend big dollars to land a big presence with this big event. All are here to stay this time.
Healthcare innovation was everywhere at HIMSS18
Certain innovations are now mature
From the presence of the booths, the coverage within sessions, and the chatter amongst attendees, two major areas of innovation have finally made it: telehealth and population health. Those who follow healthcare know these two areas aren’t new, per se. But that’s not the point. The key observation from HIMSS18 is that, in the aggregate, all companies have “made it.” Their spend was enormous, their booths packed, their messages grand, and their sessions well attended. For upwards of a decade, we’ve talked about the eventuality of both telehealth and population health. Well, HIMSS18 proved to us that the companies that figured out the models have finally crested the mountain in that long journey, and are now part of the health IT regulars.
The startups are mostly focused on AI
Most early-stage companies were predominantly downstairs in the startup hub, but some were upstairs as well. Regardless of the location, a clear and obvious trend prevailed: Artificial Intelligence. AI is coming to healthcare. When it arrives, we aren’t certain. Much like telehealth, its timing will likely be tied to payment structures and when healthcare systems are allowed to receive reimbursement for its use. But the sheer volume of AI-focused business, products, and tools staggered attendees and it felt inevitable that AI will disrupt healthcare in some capacity. Our guess is that many net-new products will be deployed over the next two years, will show demonstrative impact, and then after that a larger watershed, will happen similarly to what we saw with telehealth and population health.
Net-new innovation is more popular on the cloud than migrating old systems
Lastly, we saw the healthcare cloud as a mixed bag at HIMSS18. Conversation after conversation indicated a resistance to migrating old systems to the cloud. Ultimately, CIOs aren’t interested in the downside — higher hidden costs than the cloud vendor space indicates, high probability of downtime or failure of fragile systems during migration, and general unease with understanding risks and liabilities yet on the cloud.
Datica ran a CHIME focus group with 18 hospital and health system CIOs. Across the board, their sentiment remained the same. Migration of existing systems just isn’t a priority. On the flip side, much innovation is happening with new projects. These innovations can either be in the form of digital health products CIOs are purchasing, or as internal projects led by innovation groups. The cloud is not universally bad in the eyes of hospital CIOs. In fact, all 18 voiced the priority of cloud-first innovations when evaluating new tools or solutions. This dichotomy became one of the more interesting observations from HIMSS18. You might also want to take a look at the thorough recap and analysis of that CHIME focus group here.
More internal innovation is happening than many realize
One interesting thread throughout the entire conference hinged on the consistency of internal innovation being a focus. More conversations led to CIOs or innovation directors looking to internal resources for solving a specific problem at their system as opposed to buying a new product.
It’s not just centered with innovation groups, either. We were shocked to hear stories of how some institutions are completely rethinking innovation from the ground up, giving smaller teams more democracy in those innovations. The head of dermatology might be working on her own sanctioned project to innovate on a problem. The chief nursing officer might have the job of marshalling a skunkworks team to build a new tool for nurses. And so on. It’s happening across the country.
It’s great to see such innovation products constantly entering the health IT space. The level of sophistication in just the last few years has jumped considerably and will likely continue it’s rapid improvement through the coming years.