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HIMSS 2011: Candy Land of Technology!

February 27, 2011
by Joe Marion
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Interoperability Showcase and other wows of this year's HIMSS

Well, another HIMSS is over and all the sore backs and feet should be healed by now. From the land of the Interoperability Showcase, to the farthest reaches of the remaining exhibit halls, the Orange County Convention Center was chock full of interesting technology. The following are but a few that caught my attention.

Interoperability Showcase

To me, this is what HIMSS is all about! It was a great place to show off just how far IHE, DICOM, and HL7 have come over the years. The size alone was testament to the progress that has been made. I for one am old enough to remember when company attitudes were contrary to the very nature of interoperability, and companies were bent on the advantages of proprietary solutions. The showcase is a refreshing example of what companies can do when they put their efforts behind something.

To me, the Interoperability Showcase was perhaps the most important part of the HIMSS exhibits, as it is essential to the success of ARRA/Meaningful Use and HITECH. No single company could possibly address all of healthcare’s needs without massive development investment, and huge capital outlays on the part of delivery networks may be necessary to replace existing infrastructure.

Apixio

Deep in the exhibits of the Interoperability Showcase, a company known as Apixio, Inc. demonstrated what has been referred to as the “Google of Healthcare.” The Apixio application enables search queries across multiple sources of clinical data. As electronic health records flourish, how can one effectively cull the information to a specific aspect of a patient’s information, such as indicators relevant to a patient’s chest pain? According to Apixio, one could use their application the same was one uses Google, and search for specific criteria. The application uses two distinct types of search criteria to search for relevant information: Lexical, or the search for occurrences or variants and synonyms; and medical concept, or relevant structured data with standardized codes. Apixio could be to medical data what search engines have been to the Internet.

Poiesis Informatics

The trend in imaging diagnostics over the past decade has been to improve the interoperability of imaging systems and their integration with the healthcare enterprise. Workflow is an important aspect of interoperability. Poiesis, according to Wikipedia, is derived from the ancient Greek term ποιέω, which means "to make," and as a verb, is an action that transforms and continues the world. Poiesis Informatics is addressing optimized enterprise worklists, speech-driven diagnostic reporting, business analytics and data mining through a suite of middle layer products that can leverage best of breed systems in an optimized, context-specific manner. As emphasized by the Interoperability Showcase, Poiesis could improve the interoperability of imaging services by improving the interaction of existing systems: a boon to technology investment.

Agfa QR Code Application

Agfa demonstrated a novel works-in-progress application that uses the QR Code as a means of interoperability. In its demonstration, healthcare content such as images, reports, etc. that can be addressed by a URL can be encompassed within a QR Code API. The QR Code can then be used in conjunction with reports or other printed documentation to launch various displays on Smartphones or workstations. For example, upon receipt of a report, a physician could capture the code on their smartphone and immediately view the images using Agfa’s Xero zero footprint viewer.

Consumer applications of the QR Code are beginning to proliferate. My most recent experience with them was at the Chicago Auto Show two weeks ago. Several exhibitors were using the QR Codes on their signage to enable shoppers to go directly to their web site on their smartphone. In the case of healthcare, I have often said that any technology that could simplify the user experience could potentially improve the use of electronic data. Agfa has demonstrated a novel means for simplifying the way people can interact with data!

IBM’s Watson

I don’t know if any of you had the opportunity to see the Jeopardy episodes with Watson pitted against former Jeopardy winners. I watched the final evening, amazed at how in the early going it appeared that Watson wasn’t doing so well. But by the final moments, Watson had pulled away headily in the lead. The fact that a machine could understand the questions, react and speak a response so effortlessly still amazes me.

IBM has announced a research agreement partnership with Nuance to combine the CLU (Clinical Language Understanding) language capabilities of Nuance in a supercomputer such as Watson to lead to the next generation of EHRs (electronic health records) and decision-support applications. From experience I know how difficult some implementations of CPOE have been in terms of getting physicians to actually use them. Physicians don’t feel it is their place to have to interact with a computer to place an order, and have in the past relied on their staff to do so. Imagine if Watson-like technology could enable the physician to place the order through a simple phone call to interact with a computer to place the order. This could improve acceptance, simplify the order process, as well as the quality of orders as part of ARRA/MU initiatives.

I’ve only touched on a few of the exciting new technologies conveyed at HIMSS. It is encouraging that recent healthcare initiatives have apparently been instrumental in the emergence of new technology, once again demonstrating humankind’s ingenuity. I can only imagine with HIMSS 2012 will bring!

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