HIMSS19: Attendees have sights set on interoperability and consumerism

Interoperability, patient engagement and consumerism appear to be on the agenda for keynote presentations at HIMSS19 and on the minds of conference attendees. (Prykhodov/Getty Images)

By this time next week, about 45,000 health IT professionals, executives, vendors, clinicians and journalists will be gathered at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando for the 2019 HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition, an annual event that serves as a hub for health IT education, new product launches and networking.

The massive HIMSS conference can also serve as a barometer of the current state of the health IT industry, and this year’s event seems strategically focused on themes around interoperability, patient engagement and consumerism.

Healthcare interoperability will be the topic of the Tuesday evening keynote featuring top federal healthcare policy leaders—U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma.

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Empowering consumers with healthcare data also will be the topic of a keynote panel featuring Verma, Aneesh Chopra, president of Care Journey and the first U.S. Chief Technology Officer under the Obama Administration, Karen DeSalvo, M.D., former National Coordinator for Health IT and Mike Leavitt, founder of Leavitt Partners.

RELATED: HIMSS19: Keynote speaker lineup dominated by top Trump administration, former administration officials

What attendees will be looking for

The focus on patient engagement and consumer-directed exchange comes as no surprise given federal policy leaders’ commitment to empowering patients with information and easing regulatory burden to improve the doctor-patient relationship. From a proposal to require data sharing as a condition of participation in Medicare to rolling out a new consumer-facing Medicare app, HHS and CMS leaders have made it clear that empowering beneficiaries is a top priority.

The HIMSS Interoperability Showcase—the most trafficked area of the exhibition floor, according to the show organizer—features demonstration areas where six to eight vendors collaborate to demonstrate different use cases for interoperability solutions.

Interoperability and consumerism are on the minds of HIMSS19 attendees, as well. 

  • “The conversations I expect to hear at HIMSS are the big problems that we still have yet to solve—interoperability, security and revenue cycle management,” said Bobby Low, VP of strategy and analysis at KLAS Research. “I think we will see conversations around interoperability and the adoption and roll out of the national infrastructures with Carequality and the CommonWell Health Alliance. There will be conversations around open APIs (application programming interfaces) and collaborations to solve this puzzle of interoperability.”
  • “I’m focused on interoperability in real life,” said Dave Levin, M.D., former chief medical information officer (CMIO) for the Cleveland Clinic and chief medical officer at Sansoro Health. “I’m looking at the state of interoperability, not the flowery talk, but the solutions that actually work in the real world today. I want to get a sense of how we’re filling the gap and how are digital health companies approaching interoperability. And, how are some of the most important stakeholders, the electronic health record (EHR) vendors, progressing?”

Levin and other attendees said they are focused on the progress that EHR companies and other digital health companies are making in leveraging APIs and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources to fill those interoperability gaps.

  • Tim Stettheimer, Ph.D., vice president of education at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and a former VP and Regional CIO at Ascension, said he will be looking for technology innovations that engage patients with their data and their healthcare. “What I’m looking for is not incremental improvements over what I’ve seen before; I’m looking for the leaps, the disruptive capabilities that frankly will be a sign of where we can go, so we can get more people moving faster towards those truly impactful capabilities,” he said.

    “What I want to hear about as far as interoperability is how do I get [Amazon Echo’s] Alexa to talk to my EHR? How do you get my Apple Watch to talk to the ambulatory EHR or the health record? How do I get these innovative, consumer-facing technologies to really interoperate?” Stettheimer said.
  • Michael Archuleta, CIO at Trinidad, Colorado-based Mt. San Rafael Hospital, said the HIMSS conference is an opportunity to connect with other IT leaders and have discussions around health IT transformation strategies, beyond just the implementation of technology. “I’m hoping to see a lot of discussions around culture change at HIMSS19. Everyone at a healthcare organization needs to realize hospitals and clinics are digital companies that happen to deliver healthcare services.”

Archuleta also said he plans to focus on the value of the Internet of Things in healthcare and the development of asynchronous tools that benefit the patient both inside and outside the four walls of healthcare facilities.

“Healthcare organizations all have new CEOs; that new CEO is your patient. If we are not focusing on developing initiatives aimed at improving patient outcomes, better patient care and improving efficiencies for our physicians with the utilization of technology, we will not be progressive organizations moving into this more complex digital age of healthcare,” he said.

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