One of the advantages of having been in the industry for a quarter century is some sense of perspective on the annual vortex of activity that is the HIMSS Conference.
Given that this was my twenty-third HIMSS conference, I really was prepared for just about anything, as I winged my way down to Orlando for HIMSS14. Once again, it was great to attend and cover keynote addresses, educational sessions, and press briefings, with my excellent team of editors, while also benefiting from the support of our excellent social media editor back in one of our publishing company’s offices. And what a lot there was to cover!
Among the more memorable moments:
> Former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her keynote address to over 6,300 people in the Valencia Room on the Wednesday afternoon of HIMSS14. Secretary Clinton’s formal remarks, in which she praised healthcare IT leaders for being “part of the solution” to transforming the healthcare system in the U.S., were gratifying, if somewhat bland. But her answer to HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber’s question asking her to explain for the audience the unfolding situation in Ukraine was remarkable, though it was followed by a politician’s response to his question on issues with the Affordable Care Act. Too bad her handlers’ attempt to quash press coverage of her appearance came off as ham-handed and controlling, and marred the event, for members of the press.
> Incidentally, Hillary Clinton’s speech was the second Clinton family keynote address at HIMSS in a row, as former President Bill Clinton spoke at HIMSS13. The contrast in both the formal speeches and the Q&A sessions of the two Clintons was striking, and reflected their very different personalities—hers guarded and calculating, his expansive and freewheeling. Then again, he’s already been president…
> Speeches by Karen DeSalvo, M.D., the new-ish National Coordinator for Health IT, and Marilyn Tavenner, R.N., Administrator of CMS (the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services), on Thursday morning, followed by a Q&A session with them. The natural headline coming out of Tavenner’s speech was the “no more delays” statement regarding the ICD-10 transition, as well as the with regard to Stage 2 of meaningful use.
> Dr. DeSalvo’s impromptu press availability, held shortly after the Thursday morning session with her and Ms. Tavenner. This was Dr. DeSalvo’s very first HIMSS Conference as National Coordinator, and she handled press questions like a pro.
> A fascinating three-way discussion, on stage, between and among Russ Branzell, president and CEO of CHIME, and officials from the ONC (Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT) and CMS, during the CHIME-HIMSS Forum on Sunday. Jacob Reider, M.D., chief medical officer at ONC, and Robert Tagalicod, director of CMS’s Office of eHealth Standards and Services, did their best to answer Branzell’s questions in the most diplomatic, general way possible, but it was interesting to get a sense of how they view the burdens on providers, and the roles of the agencies going forward in the years on the horizon, after the end of the meaningful use program.
> The announcement on the Monday of HIMSS on the part of CHIME and 47 other healthcare associations that that coalition had sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius asking for timeframe flexibility on Stage 2 of meaningful use—and Administrator Tavenner’s statement on Thursday morning that appeared to shut down the possibility of what the coalition was asking for.
> Aetna CEO Marc Bertolini’s opening keynote address on the Monday of HIMSS, providing a big-picture overview of where the healthcare system is going and has to go. It was more substantive and interesting than one might have expected, and certainly put a lot of the discussions at the conference into a broader perspective.
Overall, this was a very substantive HIMSS Conference. Yes, of course, there was the usual vendor-product hype, and I heard from a good number of people that a large number of educational sessions ended up being disappointing for one reason or another. But for the third year in a row, senior officials from ONC and CMS showed up and had things to say (nothing earth-shattering this year, rather more like confirmation of things that were already in the public eye). And the level of policy clarity coming not only from federal policy leaders in Washington, but also from the big payers, like Bertolini of Aetna, around the need to push ahead towards dramatic improvements in patient safety, care quality, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, transparency, accountability, connectedness, and broader care management on the part of hospitals, medical groups, and health systems in the U.S.
And, after three or four years of exceptional policy and industry-trend clarity, it is my contention that the HIMSS Conference has become more relevant than ever as an event at which healthcare and healthcare IT leaders can really “check in” with one another about where everything is going in U.S. healthcare.
For us at Healthcare Informatics, that clarity matches what we’ve been trying to communicate at the HIMSS Conference, not only in our discussions with providers and vendors, but also through the Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards reception that we put on every year, in which we celebrate the winning teams in a program focused on showcasing important, replicable innovations industry-wide.
So, with HIMSS14 already in the rear-view mirror, what’s absolutely clear for me about the conference this year is this: as challenging as the requirements of meaningful use, the ICD-10 transition, accountable care, population health, and all the healthcare reform-driven mandates are to fulfill, there is a level of industry clarity now that will be helpful to everyone going forward.
Let me put it this way: when I think about what the conversations were like 23 years ago at the HIMSS Conference, compared to this year, the contrast is striking. The level of focus now compared to two-plus decades ago is quite remarkable, and a gift to all of us, as we all strive forward in working to build the foundations for the new healthcare. Will it be difficult? Of course, it will. But at least the parameters are clear, and everyone’s speaking the same language. And that means a lot.