Monday, January 30, 2017

HIMSS17 Preview: Same Thing, Different Year or a Whole New World?

Each year at the HIMSS Conference and Expo, there are hundreds of educational sessions, which are grouped into categories. Last year I attempted to analyze trends based on which categories gained or lost prominence compared to the previous year. Unfortunately, the categories themselves changed significantly from 2015 to 2016, making a direct comparison difficult. However, there’s good news for 2017; the categories have not been shuffled around to the same extent as last year, meaning that a change in popularity for a category truly represents a trend.

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Privacy and Security

This year the top category is Privacy, Security and Cybersecurity. This is up from the number 3 position last year, compared with number 6 in 2015. It’s clearly trending upward for good reason. The number of cybersecurity incidents is growing every year.

It’s a topic that needs a lot of attention and requires immediate action.

Care Coordination, Culture of Care and Population Health 

This category was tied for first place last year, and even though the number of sessions in this category is up from 29 to 32, it places second this year. As EHR implementation projects wind down and new programs like MIPS and MACRA ramp up, the sustained focus on population health makes perfect sense.   

Health Information Exchange, Interoperability and Data Access

This topic jumps four spots to number 3 this year, demonstrating the importance of establishing interoperability as well as deriving value from interoperable systems. Interoperability is a perennial hottopic because even though industry is starting to get a handle on the problem, there are always new systems and data sources to integrate with the existing information ecosystem. As long as the industry continues to innovate new systems and use cases, HIMSS attendees will demand educational sessions about interoperability.

Quality and Patient Safety Outcomes

Quality outcomes climbed from number 10 to number 6 this year, but it’s surprising that it didn’t advance even more. With MIPS and MACRA coming in the near future, it would seem like a category that deserves a lot of attention.  

Process Improvement, Workflow and Change Management 

This category was tied for first place last year, but plummeted to number 10 in 2017. This is perhaps due to the fact that most hospitals have completed their ICD 10 and EHR projects, so there are fewer processes and workflow changes pressuring IT departments.


In a related vein, the topic of EHRs is now last on the list, again reflecting the fact that EHRs are now widely implemented.

An Industry in Transition

Whenever the goal is to improve processes through data analysis, the first step is always to capture the foundational transactions electronically, then implement systems to analyze the transactional data and determine where and what to improve.

In healthcare, the core transactions are patient encounters, which are captured in an EHR. Analysis and quality measurement happen in population health systems, and process improvements follow from there. Based on the fact that demand for educational sessions about EHRs has waned and population health is on the rise, we can conclude that the first phase is complete and, as an industry, we are moving into the second phase. We’re climbing the value ladder from simply capturing transactions electronically in EHRs to analyzing them and making improvements based on the analysis. As the value of our electronic data assets increases, so does the need to ensure their interoperability and security.

In my opinion, the breakdown and trends of the HIMSS17 educational sessions accurately reflects what is happening in healthcare IT right now.

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