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Post-HIMSS Thoughts

April 9, 2009
by Mark Hagland
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Given that this was my eighteenth HIMSS Conference, I hope readers will indulge me a bit if I take on a bit of a “wizened veteran” voice in looking back at HIMSS 2009. I’ve seen a heck of a lot of HIMMSes over the years, and each one has had its own particular tone, emphasis, and “buzz.” This year, of course, it was all about the healthcare IT component of the ARRA, and of course, the phrase, “meaningful use.”

As Erica Drazen of CSC put it so commonsensically, the obsession with the phrase “meaningful use” is on some levels rather silly, since the overall outlines of what the federal government will be looking for are already clear; we need to implement smart, functional EMR, CPOE, pharmacy, and eMAR (with barcoding) systems (as well as smart PACS, laboratory and other clinical systems), and get our clinicians, especially physicians, to adopt them. (Please see my previous blog, “Conversing with the Oracle,” to learn more.)

And, despite the rather crazed focus on parsing a single phrase in the text of a single piece of federal legislation, a lot of good discussions took place at HIMSS this year; and I think the single most positive aspect of this year’s Zeitgeist was the growing sense of clarity around what CIOs and their colleagues in patient care organizations must do going forward. If I could summarize it in a single reference, I would say that healthcare leaders are realizing that they need to do what the good folks at DetroitMedicalCenter have done. We at Healthcare Informatics bestowed our first IT Innovators Award on DMC and two other organizations for their innovations in healthcare IT. In the case of the DMC, as I reported in our current cover story package, IT and clinician leaders moved forward in a collaborative, multidisciplinary way to fully implement a comprehensive suite of clinical IS capabilities—EMR, CPOE, advanced pharmacy IS, and eMAR with barcoding facilitation. And what made the DMC people exceptional was their groundbreaking approach to actualizing that comprehensive IS vision in the Harper-Hutzel NICU, even when it meant having to figure out a completely new way to barcode their tiny neonates. Of course, the DMC folks created their industry-leading innovation long before anyone knew there would be a federal healthcare IT stimulus, and that’s the point. As Erica Drazen would put it, they just did the right thing, did what was necessary to move forward into the future.

So it was a pleasure and a privilege to honor DMC CIO Michael LeRoy and his colleagues at the Healthcare Informatics IT Innovators Award reception on Monday evening at the DanaHotel in downtown Chicago. Michael LeRoy and his colleagues Patricia Natale and Lisa Gulker (DMC’s CNO and director of clinical transformation, respectively) were gracious, modest, and engaging, and as LeRoy said to me after receiving his trophy, “You know, we did what we did because it was the right thing to do. But it’s nice to get recognition for it.”

And so, despite the sense of nervousness at this year’s HIMSS, a nervousness that is understandable, given the global recession, I remain broadly optimistic about the next year in healthcare IT, and what next year’s HIMSS (to be held in Atlanta) will be like. Because more than ever, this year’s conference (which ended up with 27,500 attendees by HIMSS’s unofficial final count, by the way, which brought it very close to last year’s final count) was witness to what I think is an unprecedented clarity of focus in our industry. And, more than anything else during difficult times like these, clarity is what we as an industry need. Because if we know what we collectively need to do, and we then go ahead and do it, we won’t need to spend a lot of time worrying about the meaning of the phrase “meaningful use”; instead, we will, as individual organizations and as an industry, move forward and do what needs to be done. For myself, I’m just a journalist and author; I will never have to slog through an actual clinical IS implementation. But I will continue to passionately urge forward our industry’s clinician and IT leaders, as they move ahead into the future, because what needs to be done is incredibly important to healthcare patients, consumers, families, and communities, and to our society as a whole. And there couldn’t be a more exciting time (if a very challenging one) to be part of an industry that can be expected to remain in the limelight of public attention for some time to come.

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