From The Editor | January 24, 2015

HIMSS15 Provides Both Clarity & Confusion

ken congdon

By Ken Congdon

For the first time since 2009, the HIMSS Annual Conference & Exhibition was back in its hometown of Chicago this year. And, with more than 43,000 attendees and 1,200 exhibiting vendors flocking to McCormick Place Convention Center, this proved to be the largest HIMSS conference on record. Many of the same pressing topics from HIMSS14 were prevalent again at this year’s event — namely interoperability and population health management.

A Step Forward For Interoperability

Interoperability continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the health IT industry. And, thankfully, HIMSS15 actually seemed to provide some much needed direction in this area as opposed to just rhetoric.

For example, HIMSS15 provided one of the biggest venues for health IT industry leaders to sit down with members of the ONC to discuss the nationwide Interoperability Roadmap that was drafted earlier this year. This roadmap charts a path for the health IT industry to achieve interoperability progress in 3, 6, and 10 years using core critical building blocks identified by the ONC.

The ONC even organized several listening sessions dedicated to fostering industry collaboration on the Roadmap. One, titled Advancing Interoperability and Standards, was open to all HIMSS attendees and aimed to answer questions, provide clarity, and set realistic expectations surrounding the Roadmap. Another, titled ONC Interoperability Listening Session With Health IT Developers, was specifically designed for the software developer community to discuss the unique challenges and opportunities associated with developing an interoperable infrastructure for health IT. Yet another ONC interoperability listening session targeted clinicians in an effort to gain a better understanding of their interoperability demands.

The ONC’s take on interoperability was summed up well by the organization’s National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD during her keynote on Thursday morning.  During her speech, DeSalvo referenced that she participated in dozens of similar interoperability listening sessions throughout the year and she believes the path to health IT interoperability hinges on three primary objectives:

  1. Creating standardized standards, including APIs;
  2. Improving clarity regarding the trust environment, particularly data security and privacy; and
  3. Establishing sustainable and durable incentives that promote interoperability and appropriate use of health information between systems.

Finally, HIMSS15 once again featured an Interoperability Showcase, where more than 50 sponsoring vendors offered first-hand demonstrations as to how their technologies could be leveraged to deliver health IT interoperability in a variety of care settings. This year’s Interoperability Showcase was the largest landmark on the exhibit floor and provided visitors with real-world insight into how interoperability can be achieved.

A Muddled Population Health Management Message

While HIMSS15 did an admirable job of attempting to clarify the interoperability dilemma facing health IT and the go-forward strategy, I believe it had the opposite effect in regards to Population Health Management (PHM). PHM was one of the biggest buzzwords at HIMSS15. Just about every other vendor on the exhibit floor promoted how its product or service was instrumental in the PHM equation. I can’t help but think that all of this noise was confusing to the providers in attendance searching for an effective PHM solution.

From my perspective, HIMSS15 clearly illustrated the clear need for a universally accepted definition for PHM in the health IT industry. I must have spoken to executives from more than a dozen self-proclaimed PHM vendors at HIMSS, and I never heard the term defined the same way twice.

Rather than simply complain about the lack of an agreed upon PHM definition, I thought I might take a crack at getting the ball rolling toward this end. Based on my conversations at HIMSS and my editorial coverage on PHM to date, a true PHM initiative must include the following key elements:

  1. It must incorporate data aggregation from multiple sources;
  2. It must include the analytics technology necessary to turn that aggregated data into actionable intelligence;
  3. It must provide workflow tools to facilitate/automate case management and care coordination; and
  4. It must deliver mechanisms for patient engagement and feedback.

In my opinion, if a vendor product or service doesn’t address all four of these areas, then it only solves part of the equation, and isn’t a true PHM solution. While I doubt the list of criteria outlined above is the universal PHM definition the industry needs, I believe these elements provide the building blocks upon which that definition can be based. What factors am I missing? How can we round out this rough skeleton to create an accurate PHM definition that clarifies the concept as opposed to leaving it up to multiple interpretations? I’d be interested in your thoughts and feedback.