After participating in 26 annual HIMSS Conferences—every year beginning with 1991, except for 1996—I think that some in our industry might allow me to apply a longitudinal gloss to the topic of the HIMSS Conference. And here’s the high-level on that longitudinal perspective: for a number of years, scattered individuals have stated their judgment that the annual HIMSS Conference is too big, too busy, and no longer relevant. And yet, every year, the HIMSS Conference surprises many by once again proving its relevance.
At the heart of the HIMSS Conference’s relevance is this simple reality: at a time of accelerating healthcare system change and policy and payment uncertainty, the need for healthcare and healthcare IT professionals to meet in person and touch base with one another has never been more important or more compelling.
And yes, the HIMSS Conference is huge these days: while on Monday at the HIMSS Media Lunch, HIMSS senior executives had announced 40,453 as the attendance this year, on Thursday, HIMSS Media Relations had been able revise that figure upwards to 42,287, nearly matching the record attendance two years ago at HIMSS15 in Chicago, which saw 43,043 attendees. So HIMSS is as big as it’s ever been. And there’s no sign it will be getting smaller anytime soon.
So what did we find out this year at HIMSS?
1. At a time of some policy uncertainty, the industry is moving forward towards value.
Everyone in healthcare knows that major policy changes are in the offing, with a change of presidential administration, after eight years under a single president and party. And Rep. Tom Price, who just before the HIMSS Conference began, became Secretary of Health and Human Services, has made it clear that he believes that healthcare is over-regulated, and in particular that physicians are over-regulated. So it’s clear that there will be a change of attitude on a broad level at HHS. But how that translates into reality at CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and ONC (the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT) is another question altogether.
In that regard, perhaps one of the most interesting recent developments was one that didn’t take place at the HIMSS Conference, where the federal healthcare officials present were either Obama administration holdovers, or CMS and ONC staffers who had served in multiple past administrations, but who in any case had almost no leeway to reveal future policy directions (if they knew them) at CMS and ONC. But on Feb. 16, as Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal noted in his report, Seema Verma, President Trump’s nominee as CMS Administrator, appeared before the Senate Finance Committee. As Leventhal noted in his report, Verma said on Feb. 16 that she applauds Congress for the passing of MACRA, while stating that she supports efforts “that hold providers accountable for outcomes and increasing the coordination of care. It’s another thing all together in having them take on risk,” she said. So it’s clues like that on which providers will have to rely, going forward, to divine what might happen to federal healthcare regulations going forward. Nonetheless, I heard not a single person participating in HIMSS17 state or imply that they believed that the core shift from volume to value in healthcare delivery and payment was going to be fundamentally reversed under the new administration or the current Congress.
Indeed, the one real news-making comment around federal healthcare policy at HIMSS17 came in the “opposite direction,” as it were, when former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said flatly during the keynote conversation on Thursday that he and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had with HIMSS president and CEO Steve Lieber, that there would be no repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but instead, that Republicans would “fix” problems in the law and move on. Republicans in Congress, Boehner said, “are going to fix Obamacare—I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said, deriding all assertions that a full repeal will take place as “happy talk,” and adding that “In the 25 years I served in Congress, Republicans never agreed one single time on healthcare. When they started shouting repeal, repeal, and repeal, and then replace, I started laughing, because honestly, if you start with repeal, anything you pass after that is yours, you broke it.” That comment made national news that day.
And, when it comes to the future of meaningful use, Marc Probst, vice president and CIO of the Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare, told Leventhal very bluntly on Tuesday, when asked how optimistic he was about the current policy moment in health IT, “I am actually on the optimistic side because of the lack of clarity on the regulatory front. I think Meaningful Use is very unlikely to survive, at all,” he said. “I have been pushing for MU to be declared and done.”
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