IT Forefront

Our takeaways from the year's biggest health IT conference, HIMSS17

by Avery Carlson

This year's HIMSS17 conferencehosted in Orlando, Florida, from February 19-23was attended by more than 42,000 health care IT leaders. Here's what we learned about the big trends that will shape the industry this year.  

The conference had the same hustle and bustle as years past—but unlike previous sessions, 2017's exhibition hall was notable for the lack of a single dominant buzzword, which was a refreshing change. Vendors seemed more open about their true areas of focus, as opposed to shoehorning their offerings under a "population health" or "interoperability" banner that might not quite fit.

Two members of our Health Care IT Advisor team presented as part of the pre-conference Innovation Symposium and general education sessions.

  • During the Innovation Symposium, Doug Thompson, Senior Research Director for Advisory Board, discussed the IT implications of consumer-centric health care and strategies to meet these new market demands and expectations. He addressed how expectations differ by patient archetypes, and discussed a business case for competing on the basis of consumer experience. See more of Doug's work on consumerism in health care as he recaps his 2016 National Meeting presentation "The New Consumer Standard" on March 9. Register here.

  • Naomi Levinthal, a Practice Manager for Advisory Board, teamed up with Russell Hinz, Vice President of Health Informatics at Aurora Health Care, to explore Aurora's preparation for success with the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) mandatory bundled payment model. Aurora focused their efforts on three initiatives: identifying and resolving care variation, reducing discharge times, and better coordinating care. Join Naomi and Russell on April 20 for a recap of this presentation. Register here.

MACRA rising to top of mind

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) and the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) were frequently mentioned across different booths, with many vendors showcasing new products to track and report measures. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and The Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) sessions were well attended at HIMSS, as they usually are—but this year there were many questions and new information to unpack around MACRA.

CMS stressed the importance of receiving feedback on many parts of the final rule, and providers did not hesitate to answer that request using the room microphones. Their feedback showed that providers remain unclear on eligibility and specific program requirements; there is quite a lot to learn. Advisory Board's Quality Reporting Roundtable program has several publicly available resources to share: MACRA: How the Final Rule Impacts Providers and 2017 MACRA Final Rule Detailed Analysis.

Insights from the Exhibition Hall

Members of our Health Care IT Advisor team spent a fair amount of time walking the exhibition floor and we were able to dig deeper on a variety of topics. Below are a few themes that caught the eyes of our experts this year.

Machine learning persists, while interoperability is still a challenge

Greg Kuhnen: Machine learning popped up in a surprising number of conversations, often in an understated, behind the scenes way. Products ranging from consumer wearables and analytics to network security devices appear to be incorporating machine learning as a productive tool, as opposed to a marketing buzzword.

FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) was another hot topic. There was a lot of interest and widespread commitment to the standard, but provider organizations are still largely confused about what FHIR does—and more importantly, what it doesn't do.

Emerging tech brings hype, but integration is still difficult

Andrew Rebhan: HIMSS vendors showcased a number of emerging technologies, such as how artificial intelligence could detect anomalies in medical images and how virtual reality can be used for physical rehabilitation. Yet while these innovations are interesting to demo or speak about theoretically, health care providers still likely left the show lumping these technologies into the "nice to have" category.

Another example of this was with precision medicine. Despite the potential for genomic tools to personalize and improve patient care, physicians are still not sure how to integrate them at the point of care and into clinical workflows. The majority of hospitals have no standard means to capture, store, or share genomic data through the EHR, and even if physicians can acquire data, they won't be of much value if they aren't easy to use or interpret. Part of the problem is access—reimbursement is still a major hurdle for adoption, but there is also the question of how long it will take for precision medicine to expand its footprint beyond academic and laboratory settings, and into health systems (of all sizes).

Cost accounting remains a low priority

Doug Thompson: Cost accounting has always been an important tool to help understand and reduce hospitals' clinical and operating costs. In today's increasingly consumer-oriented environment, cost accounting is more important than ever. As patients increasingly base their decisions about where they consume health care on price, the ability to provide accurate out-of-pocket price estimates—or even price guarantees—grows in importance and demands a strong grasp of what it actually costs the organization to deliver those services.

But although some experts at different vendor booths showed renewed interest in cost accounting systems in the marketplace, there is nothing approaching a popular groundswell yet, and cost accounting representatives were difficult to find.

As always, we hope to see you next year in Las Vegas for HIMSS18, March 5-9, 2018!

 

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