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Leaving Las Vegas: Pondering Clarity, Convergence, Innovation, Opportunity and Challenge, at HIMSS16

March 4, 2016
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The words that come to mind as HIMSS16 closes in Las Vegas are these: clarity, convergence, innovation, opportunity, and challenge
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As 41,000-plus attendees scramble to get onto planes and into cars to leave HIMSS16, what have we learned? As an attendee and journalist who has covered the HIMSS Conference 25 times in 26 years, HIMSS16 was of particular interest for me. Much has happened since HIMSS15 at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, and coming into the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas this week for HIMSS16—and on Monday, for the CHIME CIO Forum—I was very curious as to whether what I and my fellow editors at Healthcare Informatics had been reporting on and analyzing for the past year would be affirmed at HIMSS16 or not. In a few words, the answer is yes, it was all affirmed, and more.

Indeed, a quarter-century into the HIMSS Conference phenomenon, I would have to say that this was the most validating conference yet, for a few reasons. First, I need to put this into context by referencing my first HIMSS Conference back in San Francisco in 1991. I had to look this up, but a history of the HIMSS organization records that there were 1,800 attendees at 164 exhibiting companies back then. (And yes, I look back in astonishment at the momentous growth of the conference over the years. And I am thankful to the HIMSS Legacy Workgroup for publishing an updated history of the organization and of its conference, in January 2013.) The key point is this: back then, there was no unity of vision or assessment in the healthcare IT world; indeed, until the very late 1990s, healthcare IT was still seen as a backwater by many senior executives in U.S. healthcare. Keep in mind that the CIO title was still very new back then, and there were almost no CMIOs, at least not in the contemporary sense of that role.

And because there was no consensus vision of where U.S. healthcare and healthcare IT were going, and because the information technology was primitive compared to now, the HIMSS Conference experience was a very different one back then. Vendors touted very closed systems; there was a ton of “vaporware,” meaning solutions hawked on the exhibit floor that were not yet capable of delivering on their promise; and above all, healthcare IT leaders were challenged to figure out how to move their organizations forward into the future, as the future appeared very cloudy.

Towards True Payer-Provider Convergence

Fast-forward 25 years, and the world really has become a different place. With healthcare reform and value-based purchasing solid realities, and with the direction from both the public (federal and state) and private purchasers and payers of healthcare clearer than ever. As the U.S. healthcare system and indeed society faces an astonishing cost cliff in its near future (as I’ve discussed previously, last fall, the Medicare program’s actuaries predicted that the U.S. healthcare system would go from costing $3.1 trillion a year currently to $5.2 trillion over the next 10 years), the need for all stakeholder groups to come together to address the cost, accountability, transparency, care quality, care management, population health, and efficiency requirements of the new healthcare has come sharply into focus in the past few years. (As Samuel Johnson’s immortal quote put it, “Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.”) And if Benjamin Franklin was right in saying (in a very different context, of course) that “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately” (yes, he was speaking of the events in the American Revolution, not of healthcare policy- and payment-related issues, I know), then there is a very sound reason for the convergence between payers and providers that we’re seeing right now in U.S. healthcare.

Indeed, as I wrote earlier this week, payer-provider convergence to move the needle forward in all those areas was present along a number of dimensions at HIMSS16. As I wrote in a blog on Tuesday, “The closing keynote presentation in the Business of Healthcare Symposium on Monday at HIMSS16 really helped crystallize so much about this moment in healthcare. Even the professional title of the presenter spoke to it. The presenter was Veeneta Lakhani of the Indianapolis-based Anthem, which insures 38 million covered lives across the U.S., and which has contracts with 796 hospitals and 54,000 providers, and has over 4.5 million members in more than 154 ACO contracts nationwide. Ms. Lakhani’s title? Vice president, provider enablement.” What’s more, Ms. Lakhani’s presentation followed immediately after the excellent presentation by Douglas J. Van Daele, M.D., vice dean for clinical affairs at the University of Iowa Health Care, who had just spoken about the “ROI of ACO.” And the similarity of their perspectives and perceptions was striking, given that one was a payer executive and one was a provider executive.