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Attendees Ponder HIMSS Plusses and Minuses

February 27, 2008
by aguerra
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Is it our imagination, or are we missing some CIOs…?

By Mark Hagland

Even as Wednesday at the HIMSS Conference in Orlando wound down a bit in the late afternoon, and many attendees left to return to colder or at least distant climes (not counting those hardy individuals who might planed to stick around through Thursday in order to hear Google, Inc. chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt speak at Thursday morning’s keynote address), attendees and observers began to wax philosophical about the pluses and minuses of this year’s conference.

To begin with, some were noting the relatively small number of hospital and health system CIOs strolling the Exhibit Hall floor at the OrangeCountyConvention Center. David Ziolkowski, vice-president of SampsonRegionalMedicalCenter in Clinton, N.C., was one who noticed. “There just aren’t as many of them around this year,” said Ziolkowski, who was participating in activities at the Agfa booth as a hospital partner (Sampson is currently implementing a full suite of Agfa clinical information systems). “I’m pretty tight with my peers from North Carolina, and I’ve only seen a few of my North Carolina colleagues here.”

Perhaps one reason for the CIO gap, says Frances Turisco of what had been First Consulting Group (now a part of the Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), following its acquisition by the El Segundo, Calif.-based firm in January), is that so many hospitals and health systems have already installed at least first-generation core clinical information systems. Turisco, a director in the Boston-based Emerging Practices Group at that organization, said the more significant gap is in the lack of available tools to help clinician and executive leaders of patient care organizations translate the advantages of EMRs and other clinical IS into data analysis that can in turn improve patient quality, safety, and transparency—what she and her colleagues have been calling “clinical intelligence.”

One irony of the spread of the Internet, noted Scott Grier, at director at the Nashville-based Abrio Healthcare Consulting, is that at this point in time, “There’s almost nothing happening on the exhibit floor that cannot happen remotely. So I think the pendulum needs to swing towards focusing on more white paper presentations, towards more focus on interchange, and on raising the bar higher on technological capabilities,” says the Sarasota-based Grier. “We’ve got to find ways to make the C-suite swoon again,” he adds. This year, he says, “I can’t find the C-suite people to talk to here.”

Best demo seen on the exhibit floor

Given that fully 905 IT vendors are exhibiting at HIMSS this year, it would be arrogant in the extreme for any individual to unilaterally name a standout vendor, product, or even demo. But I will venture to name the single most compelling demo I personally have seen at HIMSS, and this is it: the demonstration of semantic interoperability capabilities being offered at the dbMotion booth in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Bill Fera, M.D., the director of medical IT at UPMC, showed this reporter a software program that he and his colleagues at UPMC have co-developed in the past two years with the Hod HaSharon, Israel-based dbMotion. What was compelling about this was the level of depth of the guiding intelligence behind the tool, which brings data from a variety of disparate systems at the 23-hospital organization right to clinicians’ fingertips at the point of care, on a single, integrated screen.

The most interesting aspect of this is the fact that the creators of the system (from UPMC and dbMotion, working together) have been able to successfully dovetail the clinical vocabulary, or semantics, from disparate systems from different vendors, together, making it possible to view all medication orders across ICU, med/surg, and ambulatory environments, for example, on a single screen. Dr. Fera and his colleagues have successfully cracked the code on one of the most challenging underlying problems with interoperability, overcoming the heretofore-unresolvable stumbling block over divergent clinical vocabularies from different vendors, as used in different clinical information systems in the same organization. If anyone else has reached this level of sophistication, we at Healthcare Informatics would like to know about it.

The UPMC/dbMotion demo gave this reporter a little jolt of hope amid what felt like a slightly sober mood at this year’s HIMSS. No single “hot” trend, technology or theme has seemed to dominate this year, except for the aforementioned “what next?” quality/safety/workflow optimization work that countless U.S. patient care organizations are tackling, having at least implemented first-generation core clinical systems. If the vendor/exhibit side of HIMSS is going to continue to be relevant going forward, it will be because of the opportunity to learn about such innovations as this amid the usual swirl of hype and competing claims on the annual conference’s exhibit floor. Every year, at least a few fascinating new breakthroughs present themselves to attendees amid the general plodding progress forward on the part of vendors and their customers. But sparks of innovation—whether from giant organizations or tiny ones—are always the most exciting elements of the HIMSS experience. May they flourish again at HIMSS 2009 in Chicago.

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