Datica Blog

Reflections on HIMSS 2017: Same Same, but Different

February 24, 2017  |  Healthcare News
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HIMSS 2017 is done. It’s time for the outpouring of commentaries on the event. And, amazingly, it’s already time to be thinking about next year if you’re an exhibitor. I realize the big companies do this but, at Datica, we too are planning and already booked our booth for next year. Thankfully we got a good booth space on the top floor and not in the basement (Vegas needs 2 levels to support HIMSS whereas Orlando only needs one massive level).

Major Themes

You could have predicted these going into the event based on the sessions and promotional material.

  • Analytics / machine learning / AI. If I was to only pick one theme this year, this would be it. From Watson to Health Catalyst to the population health offerings of pretty much every EHR vendor, some form of analytics was woven into everything this year. Like patient engagement, a recurring HIMSS theme, data analytics is seen as a major part of the future of care. Analytics does hold amazing potential but, like patient engagement, health systems need to develop strategies for how and where to use analytics if they are going to be successful. Analytics for analytics sake won’t help. Understanding the problems to solve or questions to answer with analytics is the key first step.
  • Cybersecurity. As more and more traditional health data goes digital, and more and more digital health data is generated by sensors and apps, cybersecurity is becoming a bigger topic. More health data flowing into more places means more financial risk of a data breach. Cybersecurity is an essential part of digital health, just like cloud is an essential part of digital health. This should be a recurring theme of HIMSS as the next 10 years are going to be defined by healthcare moving data between new technologies and between new partnerships.
  • Patient-centered care. This is the one I wasn’t sure if I should include because I feel like some variation of this has been a recurring theme. I guess being a constant theme still makes it a theme. The idea of patient centricity, maybe because it has been a constant theme, is starting to mature. Services need to be centered on patients, and many of those services will be technology driven. The reason for services need to be patient-centered is 1) that’s what patients expect today and 2) that is what providers, payors, and life sciences need to do to compete for patients, members, and customers. I think we’ve swung back from the days when we thought B2C, or going direct to consumer, would work across most patient populations. Groups like Healthgrades still own a lot of consumer health traffic but integrating those consumer tools with providers and more formal care is also a part of patient centricity.
  • Open data. This one definitely isn’t new. I remember hearing Todd Park beating the drum about data liberación back in 2011. It only took three more years for most EHR vendors to start to get behind a new standard called FHIR and another three or so years, until today, when EHRs are ready to expose data via FHIR. I’m bullish on FHIR as a potential data standard but highly skeptical of FHIR as a path to open data and innovation. We have projects like Argonaut driving towards new ways to use FHIR so we’ll have to wait and see how those develop. The overwhelming sentiment around open data is that access to data, ideally in a trusted and consistent bi-directional way, is the only way to build the technology ecosystem that’s needed to put patients at the center of care and start to drive towards the [triple aim].

Same same, but different

There’s a saying I first heard in Thailand and use from time to time - same same but different. I think it pretty accurately describes my impression of HIMSS 2017.

Stepping back, looking at HIMSS as a whole, it felt like we had simply transported all the infrastructure and logistics from Vegas in 2016 to Orlando in 2017. It didn’t really feel too much different from HIMSS 2015, for that matter. HIStalkapalooza happened. The Athena party happened. Lots of bankers parties with better food and drink options. Uber didn’t work well. Restaurants were full all the time. Epic, Cerner, Athena and a few others still had the largest booths. Yeah, it felt like HIMSS.

But then, in other ways, it felt very different from previous years. The impression I got, on a consistent basis, is that people are burned out on the status quo. People are tired of HIMSS being the same year after year. People are tired of “doing things to check boxes”, a reference to buying EHRs to get money from Meaningful Use, and “want to really start making things happen”. These quotes are from people at large health systems, people in the same roles that would have said something like “Epic is going to do that” when asked about patient engagement or population health or pretty much anything health IT just a few years ago. These are decision makers at the core of the health IT industry and not just startups and investors. The tide has very clearly turned in the industry.

This is exciting! It will take time to see how quickly this sea change practically takes hold and we start to see more and more digital health technologies adopted and scaled at health systems. But, the process is starting and big systems are developing strategies and processes for the next 3-5 years. And, maybe the most shocking part, especially compared to several years ago, is that health systems are looking outside their EHR vendors for the future of health IT.

Want to learn more about the trends in healthcare? Take a look at the 7 Biggest Ideas ebook for inspirations from our innovators podcast series.