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Next Generation Technologies at the HIMSS Conference

April 30, 2015
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Finding our way around at HIMSS next year will be much better than this year, thanks to location-based services. I hope.

There were several surprises for me this year around geomapping and location-based services in general.  It changed and advanced my thinking, both about information technology in retail consumer services, as well as healthcare population management analytics specifically. 

Think about the lettuce section at your favorite grocery store. Now, imagine that your shopping list on your smartphone could direct you, from your kitchen at home, all the way to the exact products you wanted, in a large grocery store, including a specific type of lettuce.   Until Amazon can deliver the Annual HIMSS conference experience to me at home, this is the kind of location-based way finding service that HIMSS left me hungering for this year.

  • Uber in Chicago

The first was the taxi service, Uber.  Yes, I know, “It’s not a taxi service, it’s a ride sharing service.”  It’s not competitive with taxis; it offers something different.  That’s how they have to position themselves because of the pre-existing ecosystem.

The reality is far more intriguing.  For the last year, I’ve had an app on my smartphone that shows me where taxis are, summons them, gets me the lowest price on a taxi ride, reliably emails me receipts, and makes my end-of-ride experience effortless.  I just say thank you and walk away.  The billing, tip and credit card mechanics are automatic, invisible, and stress-free.

Because of the nature of my current work, I’m using the service at least four times per trip, from home to airport, airport to worksite or hotel, and in reverse back home.  As a result, I’ve used Uber more than a hundred times in the last 12 months.  Rarely a glitch, better, faster, and cheaper than renting a car or using most taxi dispatched services in my cities.

Until I landed in Chicago for HIMSS ...  Things were immediately, noticeably, and wildly different and inferior.   At the airport, the smartphone app didn’t offer me ride sharing; it offered the traditional taxi, labeled as such.  When I pressed the request button, it didn’t work.  Apparently, the rules and laws in Chicago precluded the ride sharing service from picking up at popular locations like the airport and the HIMSS conference.  My reliable experience was deliberately made to fail.  There were ways to overcome this and regain the better, faster, cheaper service, although they required enough knowledge to game the system.

I began wondering if there was a larger lesson for me here about the nature of the interaction between advancing technology, commerce (competitive business factors) and usability.

  • Finding my way around McCormick Place

There’s one word to describe finding your way around HIMSS this year: labyrinthian. (I looked up the word: “A complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one's way; a maze”).  The meeting rooms were separated over four floors and four distinct buildings (North, South, East and West).  And that’s a separate issue from finding and navigating from one exhibit booth to another, although there weren’t multiple floors and walls to contend with.  It would take 20 minutes or more to get from one session or meeting to the next because of distance, but more importantly, the challenge of way finding. 

It struck me that there was an easy or at least, straightforward solution for future HIMSS conferences.  Indoor GPS.  This technology is being used in retail, sports stadiums, and elsewhere.  HIMSS is already distributing an app to attendees – by the way forty-three thousand plus of us – that knows the agendas, old school maps, and personal agendas.  Why not give the attendees, many of whom were CIOs and other C-suite execs, a taste of indoor-GPS-enabled way finding?  The alternative was comparatively barbaric.  [After initially drafting this, I attended another conference where I learned that some healthcare organizations are tracking healthcare workers using RFID.  They know exactly who are washing their hands and how often.  They know who isn't.]

  • Brian Jacobs’s session, “Population Health Management: Using Geomapping to Enable Data-Driven Decisions”

As closure, I’ll direct you to reviewing Dr. Brian Jacob’s fantastic session on the role of geomapping to population health management.  He achieved his learning objectives:  (The full speaker bio and session handout is available here: )

  • Describe the process involved in converting EHR-derived data into geospatial information.

  • Outline how geospatial analytics can be used to understand regional variations in health conditions

  • Identify an approach to the management of hospital readmissions using EHR-derived data