Here are the top 5 things that will be generating buzz at HIMSS 2020

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Conference is only a week away from kicking off in Orlando.

The annual event, which brings tens of thousands from the worlds of healthcare tech together with payers, providers and policy experts to a single place, typically offers a barometer for where the industry is going in the year ahead.

Here's a look at our predictions for what will be generating the most buzz—or perhaps overhype—at this year's HIMSS.

1. Coronavirus 

To elbow tap or not to elbow tap? That will be one of the big questions as the conference commences under the shadow of pandemic fears from the virus known as COVID-19.

Conference organizers have told attendees the show will go on, but to consider it a #handshakefree meeting.


Expect plenty of discussion of both the major challenges—and the potential opportunities—that are rippling throughout the entire healthcare supply chain due to the virus.

For instance, Bill Paschall, vice president, business development at Vivify Health, sees remote patient monitoring and telehealth being in the best position to effectively address coronavirus by supporting providers utilizing digital outreach.

"This technology connects providers to their patients on their mobile devices where they can be screened for symptoms, educate them on how to prevent the spread of the disease and link them to the CDC for more information, and allowing the clinical team to safely monitor symptoms daily," he said.

2. Natural language processing will be all the rage. 

As journalists, we often start noticing where the hype is based on just how many times the latest buzz words and phrases get dropped during interviews.

In recent months, natural language processing (NLP) is getting dropped the most.

While NLP has been steadily gaining steam as an invaluable tool among players in the health sector, excitement about it seems to be reaching a fever-pitch. (Think: AI just a few years ago.)

Mike Doyle, president and CEO of COTA Healthcare, a health tech company focused on cancer research, isn't terribly surprised. 

"I think where a lot of companies are going to go, and certainly where we’re going, is building tools that allow us to take advantage of the data store we now have, especially from electronic health records, but also from genomic information," Doyle said. "And there’s a lot of hype, a lot of hype around AI/NLP/machine learning. That can be extremely useful. But the idea that it’s a panacea and that you’re going to just put these tools on and extract data from the EHR and it’s going to be really accurate and powerful is a big misnomer.

"It’s not even close to being a reality, certainly not for a long time."

— Tina Reed

3. Ambient voice technology will take center stage.

Speaking of which, expect to see a lot of voice-enabled exam rooms at HIMSS20.

Several vendors have used NLP and artificial intelligence to develop conversational voice technologies, also called ambient voice, to ease clinicians' workload and tackle their documentation headaches.

Nuance Communications will be showcasing its Nuance Dragon Ambient experience (DAX) technology, an ambient clinical intelligence solution for a wide array of medical specialties. The company has worked with Microsoft to create an exam room experience where the clinical documentation "writes itself," the companies said.

The technology then synthesizes the conversation, integrates the data with contextual information from the EHR and updates the patient’s medical record. 

Communications IT vendor Vocera will be debuting ambient voice capabilities that will enable clinicians to wake up its Smartbadge wearable by saying "Hey Vocera."

Clinicians use the Smartbadge to communicate including making calls, sending voice messages, responding to events and alerts, or broadcasting to care teams or rapid response teams. The ambient capabilities will enable hands-free communication, such as while they are scrubbed in or wearing surgical gloves.

EHR giants Epic and Cerner also are getting into this space.

Cerner confirmed that it will be showcasing an AI-powered voice technology called Virtual Scribe which it developed with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as part of its expanded relationship.

The technology, currently in testing and development, is designed to help reduce the amount of time clinicians spend on data entry. 

Epic also will be showing off its ambient voice technology voice assistant called "Hey, Epic!" The tool gives clinicians a new way to look up information about a patient and document care in the EHR, the company said.

The health IT giant plans to make significant investments in this space and will add more capabilities in the next two years. The company's long-term vision is a "new kind of experience in the exam room," where Epic responds to the physician’s conversation, differentiates the physician and the patient, and knows the plan of care.

4. Will we ever get true interoperability? That will be the big question, again ...

Federal policymakers are expected to drop a hotly contested health IT regulation around or at the HIMSS conference this year.

The proposed regulation, which spurs data sharing, has split the industry with Epic and many hospitals coming out against the interoperability rules citing concerns about data privacy. However, many technology vendors, including Apple and Microsoft, along with health plans and consumer advocacy groups, have urged HHS to move forward with publishing the rule. 

The industry has been talking about interoperability for at least a decade, but digital health leader Mike McSherry expects the impending ONC data-sharing and information blocking rule will be a conversation starter at the conference.

McSherry is the CEO and co-founder of Xealth, a company that provides a digital health platform that enables clinicians to prescribe digital tools from their EHRs. The lack of data sharing has been a roadblock to innovation in healthcare and is necessary to deliver care, he said.

"Siloed information only gives us a fraction of the benefits that could be gained by taking a holistic approach. With that information comes responsibility, so, as an industry, we need to ensure there are secure policies and open communication around data use. Health systems should have the ability to put the right data in the right place at the right time, bringing together data, technology, and policy."

He added, "It will be interesting to see how far the ruling goes regarding data sharing."

Kent Locklear, M.D., chief medical officer at Lightbeam Health Solutions sees real progress on the interoperability front after years of unfulfilled promises.

"The alignment and strong positioning of CMS and ONC, buy-in from many of the major industry stakeholders, significant progress on the important FHIR projects like Da Vinci and Gravity and broad-based endorsement from patient advocacy groups have pushed the effort over the tipping point," he said.

5. Healthcare cybersecurity will be top of mind.

As the industry gears up to open up patient data via mobile apps, per the HHS rules, the issue of security and privacy is front and center.

Hospitals, health plans, and doctor's offices continue to be high targets for cyber attacks and ransomware.

Increased data sharing will mean a bigger focus on data security, said David Finn, executive vice president of strategic innovation at cybersecurity firm CynergisTek.

"We will see a larger focus on moving from technology deployment to actually using data; turning data into information and information into insights. Security and privacy should be seen as critical to the safe exchange of health data; prioritizing interoperability without protective measures in place for those systems could be dangerously out of order," he said.

Given that 2019 saw record ransomware attacks on healthcare and a record number of records breached, cybersecurity, on the whole, should be a major talking point at HIMSS, Finn said.