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What We Learned: The skinny on HIMSS13, New Orleans

Posted by on April 8th, 2013 Posted in: All Posts


For about a week in early March, I attended the Healthcare Information and Management Systems (HIMSS) Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA. The meeting theme was “Health IT: Right Time. Right Place. It’s On.” HIMSS is one of twenty-five top national conferences in terms of attendance and its focus is healthcare information technology (HIT). The conference is so large that leadership is only able to cost-effectively schedule it in four cities: Las Vegas, Chicago, New Orleans, or Orlando. This year, attendance peaked at about 32,000 people from the U.S. and around the globe; including Saudi Arabia, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

The mile long Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was ground zero for most activities and personally, I was overwhelmed at the expanse of physical space, the number of attendees, and the variety of choices of symposia and educational tracks.  Educational sessions were sliced into four tracks: Clinical & Business Intelligence, Mobile Health, Meaningful Use, and Views from the Top. The exhibition space, or Business Marketplace as it was called, covered an area the size of several football fields, while the educational commons area provided classrooms, great halls, and theaters on three floors. Creative planning was needed to efficiently circulate so as to dodge attending consecutive events on different floors at opposing ends of the building. Per usual, popular sessions booked-up quickly, but HIMSS had a nice feature where one could download presentation slides using a QR code on the signage.

The National Library of Medicine had a presence in the Marketplace where it primarily promoted the VSAC (Value Set Authority Center) service. Value sets are lists of specific terms and associated codes derived from single or multiple standard vocabularies. These sets are used to define clinical concepts in clinical quality measures (CQMs) and support effective health information exchange. A primary purpose of the value sets currently represented in the NLM VSAC, is to support the 2014 CQMs prescribed for Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs).


Willa Fields, HIMSS Chair (and professor School of Nursing, University of San Diego), provided opening remarks and highlighted the four Nicholas E. Davies Awards of Excellence recipients, one of whom was from SE/A. Unity Health Care of Washington, DC received the award for Increased Access to Care. Next, she introduced Mayor Mitch Landrieu who, besides welcoming everyone to the Big Easy, depicted a compelling narrative of how the city has shifted its reliance on hospital emergency departments as the first point-of-contact for uninsured/underinsured residents to a neighborhood network of city operated health centers, post-Katrina.

President Bill Clinton spoke of the urgent need to bend the nation’s healthcare cost curve downward so as to avoid additional negative impact on GDP. There are various efforts coalescing around it, such as the Affordable Care Act, the continued integration of HIT, movement toward personalized medicine, and the adoption of clinical quality measures. These efforts are being executed not only by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services but also by third party payers, which financially encourages providers (through modifying reimbursement mechanisms) to hone in on patient quality rather than volume. During his Q&A, he was asked if he thought another Clinton might run in 2016. While he shared a few stories about Hillary, he was non-committal.

Eric Topol, MD, (cardiologist) who can be best described as a futurist, talked about the “consumerization” of medicine. He made three key points about this “consumerization”: (1) the growth of smartphone technologies including medical apps, (2) the continued personalization of medicine from human genome sequencing to designer pharmaceuticals, and (3) expanding digital capabilities of biosensor technologies. Taken together, these items can enable an empowered consumer to “continuously” monitor his/her human biosystems at the touch of an app and with the aid of a sensor.  The capability now exists to continuously monitor your biosystem in such a way that a smartphone may be able to determine, in real-time, if you are likely to have a heart attack. Dr. Topol, whose book is entitled “The Creative Destruction of Medicine,” recently chatted on national news with NancySnyderman, MD about his vision of a medical “future.” His vision, importantly, is that continuous smartphone surveillance provides indications of trends and possible abnormalities, which in the end, leaves the consumer with the power to determine how to manage the information and his/her health.

Warner Thomas – CEO of Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest non-profit healthcare system, delivered a direct message on costs to representatives of EHR vendors and medical device manufacturers in the audience. Quite simply, he stated that continued sharp cost increases in systems and products cannot be sustained in the “new world order” of healthcare delivery. While listening to his presentation, I warmly reflected on countless discussions involving similar lines of thought at library conferences, meetings etc., where due to flat or decreasing budgets our profession has had to make hard “cost” choices in terms of publisher products and services. Here too, in the hyper-dynamic world of HIT, cost is of utmost concern to decision makers.

Since my interests centered on big data, consumer health, and patient communications, I attended educational sessions that included “The Use of Social Media to Educate Patients,” “Implementing Patient Engagement and Care Coordination Technologies,” “Beyond the Device: A Comprehensive Mobility Strategy,” and “Engaging People in Health through Consumer-Facing Devices.” I also attended the EHR SIG group meeting where I learned about a subset of EHR vendors marketing software solutions to K-12 school systems, to track student nutritional, behavioral, and mental health statuses.


Would I attend again? Yes.  How can a librarian get involved in HIT? Identify the early technology adopters in your institution and engage them. Offer to use or get trained in the technology. Find a way to make HIT adoptable to your workflow? Also, keep abreast of HIT trends. Start small and then expand your scope, otherwise the subject matter can quickly overwhelm.  HIT topics include, patient portals, datasets, MedlinePlus Connect, blue button technology, inferential software, EHRs, and big data. One recommendation is Eric Topol’s book – The Creative Destruction of Medicine. If you are an SE/A member and have an interest in reading it, phone Ashley Cuffia on our main number and she’ll make arrangements for you to borrow the book from our lending library, once it arrives from the publisher. Also, a useful blog is Life as a Healthcare CIO, a news source is Healthcare Finance News, and AHRQ has a knowledge library of relevant technology articles

Having attended both the HIMSS and AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association) conferences, a colleague asked to compare and contrast the two.  There is huge value in both, so it all depends on your primary angle of interest. The annual AMIA conference has a mainly academic focus, often on theoretical and emerging thought, while HIMSS has technology innovations with practical applications, which often originate from academia, or corporate research and development.  In my opinion, HIMSS seems to cast a broader net with professionals from a variety of healthcare sectors, all mixed throughout the venue. So, mark your calendars, next year HIMSS is scheduled for Orlando, FL in February.

For more information on HIMSS see: http://www.himss.org. Questions or comments can be sent to PJ at: pgrier@hshsl.umaryland.edu.

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