Is the Promise of Health Information Technology More than a Hope and a Prayer? This Year at HIMSS

Craig Deligdish, MD

March 2014, Vol 5, No 2 - From the Editor

At the end of February, I had the opportunity to attend the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS)14 Annual Conference, which was held in Orlando, FL. Attended by more than 30,000 committed vendors, healthcare administrators, providers, politicians, scientists, and others, the meeting provided a great deal of insight into the health information community’s past accomplishments, the present state of the art, and expectations for the future.

This year’s HIMSS conference focused on innovation, impact, and outcomes, and addressed a number of issues important to patients, providers, and payers. For those who are unfamiliar with HIMSS, it was founded in 1961, and it encompasses more than 52,000 individuals representing healthcare providers, government, and not-for-profit organizations, as well as corporations, worldwide. With a mission of leading endeavors that optimize health engagement and healthcare outcomes through information technology (IT), HIMSS is committed to better health through IT.

This year, HIMSS showcased Beacon Communities, which have made improvements using health information technology (HIT) as a foundation for care coordination and innovation. Other foci of this year’s annual conference included organizations and companies focused on patient e-engagement and technology tools that allow for interoperability between different HIT systems.

Unfortunately, the “promise” of HIT has at times had its shortcomings. Challenges have included the failure of many systems to interface with each other and the inefficiencies that providers frequently encounter when utilizing electronic medical records. Despite advances in HIT, many healthcare providers and payers have failed to see a positive impact on the cost of healthcare, or a clear improvement in quality care or outcomes that can directly be attributed to HIT. That being said, keynote addresses by Karen B. DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, National Coordinator for HIT at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); and former Secretary of State and US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton focused on a number of accomplishments and hope for the future.

Dr DeSalvo focused on efforts by the HHS and the CMS to partner with the HIT community and the private sector. She reviewed the federal government’s commitment to developing a national health information network for the purpose of improving care and transparency. She stated that the government’s commitment to investing in HIT for the public good lets providers access information that allows them to provide better care leading to improved outcomes. She described the government’s strategy, which is focused on harmonizing standards and encouraging interoperability, with meaningful use being one tool to encourage these goals.

Ms Tavenner stressed the federal government’s commitment to rewarding quality over quantity, stating that the trends that the CMS is seeing in healthcare include a reduction in adverse events and hospital readmission rates. She referenced a number of pilot programs and other initiatives that link quality data to reimbursement.

Ms Clinton spoke briefly, addressing her commitment to innovation, improving outcomes, care coordination, and quality healthcare, stating that these initiatives are best when they come from the provider community. She stated the government’s role is to reward value over volume while supporting evidence-based care that reduces costs.

All of the keynote speakers at this year’s HIMSS conference spoke to the importance of value-based initiatives, value-based purchasing, and recognizing and incentivizing better health outcomes, with the overall goal of reducing the cost of care and improving quality.

All in all, it was refreshing to see the commitment and the investments that have been made by both the government and the private sector HIT community toward value-based care, although it is also clear that these investments have yet to generate the returns that both the provider community and patients so desperately need.