Doctors and Patients Want Answers at #HIMSS16

by Pat Rich

For those interested in how health information technology impacts physicians and patients directly, #HIMSS16 begins even before it begins.

As a social media ambassador, many of the insights I hope to gain from this year’s meeting in Las Vegas will start to come from the pre-conference symposia held on Monday, Feb. 29, before the opening keynote session that evening at 5 p.m.

While a pre-conference symposium for physicians has been a feature of the HIMSS Annual Conference for many years, the fairly recent addition of a patient engagement program running at exactly the same time creates challenges for those of us not yet enabling modern technology to clone ourselves.

I hope both of these day-long sessions will begin to offer insights into what is being done to address some of the major challenges I have seen emerging in the U.S. over the past year – namely: 

  • ongoing physician unhappiness with the electronic records systems, and
  • continuing challenges for patients wanting to make better use of digital channels and meaningfully engaged in their own health.

While I will be viewing the proceedings from HIMSS16 from a particularly Canadian vantage point (see my earlier post), here too, information on how physicians and patients are using – or not using health technology - is important, irrespective of national jurisdiction.

Improving physician use of electronic health records and interoperability, better patient engagement (or in the case of many Canadian patients, any engagement at all) through the use of digital health, and figuring out the real benefits of mobile, wearables and other trends in digital health are all just as important for Canadians. I look for HIMSS16 to provide insights on all three of these main themes.

The president of the American Medical Association recently stated that half of U.S. physicians billing Medicare last year lost 1% of their billings for the year under provisions of meaningful use legislation, because they did not meet the requirements for using IT in their practices. Certainly, these physicians may not be mourning the imminent death of meaningful use, but it will be critical to know what is coming to take its place.

For some direction, I am looking to the session with Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, national coordinator for Health Information Technology, and acting assistant secretary for Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Andy Slavitt, acting coordinator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on Tuesday evening, as well presentations by other U.S. federal government officials throughout the work.

But it is clear physician unhappiness goes far beyond HITECH and speaks to fundamental concerns about how current systems are failing to fit the workflow of their practices. How vendors can address such basic questions is something else I will be looking for at HIMSS16.

Rather being a peripheral add-on, patient engagement has become another key theme at HIMSS16, and I will be searching for perspectives on what this really means in 2016. From mobile apps to trends in consumer access to information, certainly no shortage of presentations exists in this area. Faced with continual news headlines about security breaches concerning patient data, delays in getting their copies of their own records, a proliferation of patient portals, and even challenges in matching patients to their records, the area is a minefield of hazards and obstacles.

Wearables, mobile apps and telemedicine may eventually transform how healthcare is delivered, but many complex problems must be solved before progress can truly be said to have occurred for patients.

As always with the HIMSS Annual Conference – and to overuse a Vegas analogy – choosing which sessions to attend this year will be somewhat of a crapshoot. One-sentence descriptors often fail to provide true insight into what is being presented.  It is amazing how often one reverses direction en route to a session, and at that minute, discovers another session occurring at the same time. This is part of the serendipity of HIMSS16.