What’s hot in health information technology – HIMSS18

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Close to 50,000 healthcare technology practitioners gathered in Vegas recently for HIMSS18, which has become the 5th largest trade show in the country. In the spirit of full disclosure I’ve had a close professional relationship with HIMSS for the past 7 years, but the facts speak for themselves. The health IT industry goes on hiatus for a week to attend HIMSS and see the 1,000 exhibitors in attendance.

Those in the healthcare technology market know that there are certain generic products that remain foundational to the industry. In these cases, the battle is one of competitive differentiation. Perhaps the most obvious is anything related to EHR or EMR (electronic health/medical records). While sometimes used interchangeably, the former is a more comprehensive patient record that “travels” across systems, whereas the EMR is typically something collected in a single office visit.

Since many larger healthcare systems may have upward of a dozen different EHRs, the other major theme of the conference is interoperability. My focus groups and interviews tell me that, when vendors say this word to healthcare technology buyers, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Their gripe is that the reliability of transporting patient records across disparate systems is more art than science.

That being said, even if interoperability is buggy, the alternative of having to go to 12 systems for 12 records is totally unacceptable. In this industry, this can literally be life and death functionality. Attendees at the show were in desperate search of real-life use cases showing that that mainstream EHR systems can talk with each other. Adding to the complexity is how this communication will occur across a vast variety of wearable devices ranging from diabetes monitoring and pacemakers feeding into a smartphone.  I’m not clairvoyant but I’m confident this will be a key theme at the HIMSS 2025 conference!

On the other hand, one of the buzzwords that was taken more seriously by attendees was “workflow.” While technology is surely an enabler it can also serve as a major obstacle in the quality of patient engagements at the clinical level. I’ve written in previous blogs that the reaction to healthcare innovation at the clinical level is much like the famous William Gibson quote: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”. This applies to how IT views innovation versus the people in the trenches who have to “apply the future”.

Workflow is everything in a modern healthcare system where value-based care and patient satisfaction scores are the difference between reimbursement from insurance providers and denial of the revenues needed to stay afloat. Nurses and doctors are on the frontline of patient engagement and as such have become VERY vocal about technology deployments that will add unproductive seconds and minutes in patient-facing situations.

Addressing this efficiency and workflow issue were dozens of voice enabled applications that permitted clinicians to increase the quality of direct patient engagement (and eye contact) instead of staring down at a tablet to type in data. These voice enabled applications included a new breed of chatbots that were able to ask follow-up questions using certain degrees of artificial intelligence.

One of the most dramatic changes I observed in this year’s show as compared to the previous year was the dramatic increase of booths that displayed some form of virtual reality.  What was interesting was that the technology was used more to demonstrate other non-VR driven products than it was to show how VR was being applied to actual healthcare settings. This paralleled the hype curve of consumer VR as “eye candy” as opposed to a utility for real life situations. To be fair, there were many healthcare specific applications of VR and AR that did permit simulations and these use cases are clearly increasing.

As with the consumer market there is a need to get healthcare pros to engage with VR and AR and the hardware readily available to try it at home so they have a comfort level for possible use in the healthcare setting.

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