Another HIMSS conference has come and gone, which can mean only thing—time to sleep! But before I get that much-desired rest, I'd like to take this time to reflect on the 2017 conference, full of 42,287 attendees (at last check according to HIMSS press) with more than 1,200 exhibiting companies on that ever-so-long show floor. And, I encourage all of you to read our wall-to-wall coverage from this week right here. Alas, here we go—my HIMSS17 takeaways from Orlando:
All quiet on the HIT policy front—The change in White House leadership was certainly felt in Orlando this week, as federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) did not make major announcements, or quite frankly, have much of their leadership present. This makes sense, as just-confirmed HHS Secretary Tom Price was never going to come to the conference just days after his confirmation. Meanwhile, on the CMS side, the Senate has not yet confirmed Seema Verma, so she obviously was not going to attend either. If you read our HIMSS17 Survival Guide earlier this month, Leslie Kriegstein, vice president of congressional affairs, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), noted that there isn't a whole lot in the form of pending rulemaking, and with many of the folks in these federal agencies in interim positions, she predicted that it would be very quiet on the policy front. She was right. But still, it felt weird. Last year, then-HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell made a major federal policy announcement, dubbed "The Pledge," which was essentially a data sharing and access commitment which many leading health IT companies signed onto.
You might ask, what about The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), since the first reporting period in the "transition year" of 2017 has kicked off? Yours truly figured that any MACRA session at HIMSS17 would have essentially been a repeat of the rulemaking that's already in place, with not much in the "new information" department; my intuition was confirmed after speaking with people who attended these briefings. So while those sessions were probably helpful to many Medicare clinicians who are not ready for MACRA/MIPS, the information is hardly newsworthy.
Meanwhile, on the health technology-specific front, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) was similarly quiet at HIMSS. In the agency's annual Town Hall, staffers gave department updates and acting National Coordinator talked about 21st Century Cures as ONC's main priority, but Jon White also noted that there would not be a lot to discuss about what the new administration might have in store. Industry stakeholders are waiting for a new National Coordinator to be named by the Trump regime, and Healthcare Informatics is hearing that this process could take months, with Renee Ellmers, former U.S. Representative (R-N.C.) as a possible leading candidate. In the past, Ellmers has worked on legislation that would reduce Meaningful Use reporting burdens on doctors, which means that her views could be right in line with those of Sec. Price's.
Interestingly, the biggest buzz from HIMSS17 on the policy front may have been created by former CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt, who said that providers hate the technology they're using, placing blame on both the developers and the end-user physicians. Slavitt, who has always been frank and upfront, also said that vendors should stop spending $2 million on exhibitor booths at HIMSS until they have "thrilled their customers."