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Consumerism Hits HIMSS

April 17, 2007
by Anthony Guerra
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Almost everything at healthcare IT's largest show pointed in one direction - patients are going to be in charge

Either you were there and saw it, you know someone who was there and heard about it, or you've been there before and decided it was all too much to handle. Whatever the case, everyone who is anyone in healthcare IT had, at the very least, a watchful eye on the annual HIMSS show, which took place this year in New Orleans, drawing nearly 25,000 attendees.

To most, it seemed business as usual on the show floor and in the educational sessions. Vendors touted their latest offerings at their booths, press people ran from meeting to meeting with those same vendors, and provider-side IT shoppers tried not to reveal their identities while walking the exhibit floor, lest they understand what it feels like to be chum in Shark's Bay.

But, despite the customary feel, all was not normal at HIMSS. This was the year that consumerism came to healthcare, or, more specifically, this is the year that Microsoft came to HIMSS - both essentially being the same thing.

"We feel like a kid in a candy store because we think we can make such a huge difference,€VbCrLf says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, HIMSS inaugural keynote speaker at the show. (see cover story, page 20)

But, to be sure, that kid would not be in the candy store were the time not right for consumers to grab the reigns of their own healthcare. That's what Microsoft does - it brings technology down to the consumer level (while simultaneously courting business).

Consumerism has hit healthcare in a big way due to the convergence of trends like pay-for-performance, voluntary reporting of quality statistics, and increased price transparency. Patient services are also on the rise (see our feature story, page 26) But, perhaps most important of all, consumer-directed healthcare - with its high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts - is changing healthcare by injecting free-market energies into the industry. "We have masked the true cost of healthcare from the people consuming it,€VbCrLf said William Fandrich, senior vice president, consumer liability, Bloomfield, Conn.-based CIGNA Corporation, during a pre-conference symposium focused on payers. But that is quickly coming to an end.

So, the blindfold is coming off and managing the changes that come into focus will require a logical approach. For a start, success will be about competing in a service industry where the consumer/patient is king, so hospitals and physicians must start thinking like other businesses, embracing IT to better serve consumers and build loyalty. Also, P4P programs aren't going away, so it's time to do some investigating, understand what's going on, and figure out what data needs to be produced for compliance. Once that's accomplished, the next step is to determine how extensive an IT overhaul is required, how much workflow reengineering is necessary and how long it will take to select and implement the necessary systems.

And that's just the first step.

Once that's accomplished, the data starts coming in. And there's certainly no reason to think your institution will be number one in all areas of performance, while also being the clear choice on price. So at that point it may be time for the chief medical officer to go back to the drawing board and figure out why the quality isn't where it needs to be for a particular procedure. Perhaps it's time to integrate an evidence-based medicine application, perhaps putting more technology at the bedside will help reduce medication dispensing errors, or perhaps a cash-flow crunch is the result of a revenue-cycle management problem and you're in need of some real-time adjudication to reduce payer denials.

To some, this might seem too much to handle. But if you're an IT buyer who has navigated the exhibit floor at HIMSS and lived to tell about it, besting these challenges should be a piece of cake.