I’ll readily admit that I’m old enough to remember media coverage of the former Soviet Union, prior to its collapse in 1989-1991. Back in the very, very bad old days of Stalinist repression, with no free press whatsoever in the Soviet Union, western journalists would resort to examining photos of gatherings at which Politburo members were lined up in public, often outdoors. The western journalists would look at the physical ordering of those lineups to determine exactly what might be going on internally—who was up, who was down, who was in, who was out. It really was almost comical in a way, though of course the politics of the Soviet Union were deadly serious, and the insights the western journalists were trying to obtain were important for the entire world.
Well, the stakes aren’t nearly as high as that when it comes to the HIMSS Conference, nor are the signifiers as opaque. If anything, the amount of information flying around every year is almost overwhelming. But there is one commonality, and that is that it is interesting every year try to get a sense of the Zeitgeist, the “esprit du temps” at the HIMSS Conference.
In fact, it seems that every year at HIMSS, there are a couple of buzzwords, buzz terms, or buzz phrases, that seem to dominate the marketing and presentation on the exhibit floor. There are also dominant themes or areas of endeavor, such as, in past years, “electronic health records” (yes, that was in the “olden” days of 15 years ago, when most hospitals still hadn’t adopted EHRs), “revenue cycle management,” and “health information exchange,” have been everywhere on the exhibit floor, followed in recent years by “meaningful use,” “ICD-10,” and “interoperability.”
But whether certain buzzwords or certain themes have dominated the visual presentation on the exhibit floor at HIMSS, what is clear is that the industry, and its vendors, have tended to gravitate towards certain types of thinking at certain times. I remember back in the early 1990s, how the dominant thinking at the time around EHRs, which I found baffling—but honestly, so many thought this way at the time—was that completely closed EHRs were great, and how the problem of interoperability would be solved by “integration engines.” How about creating more open systems to begin with? Well, of course, that’s exactly what happened—after hundreds and hundreds of hospital-based organizations had ripped out completely closed, siloed EHRs and replaced them with newer-generation solutions that could communicate at least on some basic level, with other systems.
What has amused and sometimes disturbed many of us veterans of past HIMSS conferences has been the “groupthink” manifestly visible in the exhibit halls at the conference, as though 350 marketers had gotten together and decided that “THIS” (whatever the idea of the moment was) was “the big thing,” and everyone should talk about it all at once. In fact, in many cases, it turned out that the groupthink in 1991, 1995, or even 2005, was off-base in some way, and needed rethinking. Yet amid the hype and dazzle of vendor presentations at HIMSS booths, it has always been easy to be mesmerized by the buzz term of the year.
Two things have changed fundamentally, though, in the past few years, in all this. First, the policy direction of U.S. healthcare has been clarified both on the federal policy level, via such mechanisms as the Affordable Care Act and the HITECH Act, and by the concerted push on the part of private payers to push the same broad efforts in the direction of payment for value and the health of entire communities over time. And second, the technology honestly is much better now than it was years now, and there has been greater focus on innovation that is purposeful and strategically driven.
As we at Healthcare Informatics have noted extensively in our coverage, population health, care management, accountable care, payment for value, patient and community engagement, and clinical transformation, have been for a few years now and will continue to be, major foci of the U.S. healthcare system. And out of those policy-driven thrusts naturally come the need for pervasive data ability, data connectedness, total clinician and worker mobility, authentic interoperability, authentic health information exchange, and next-generation clinical decision support, among other IT-related needs.
So all this clarity should yield positive results that extend to the exhibit halls of the HIMSS Conference. As a result, I would watch for five things this year, as you trawl the halls looking for solutions ideas, and the Zeitgeist. Look for: