My HIMSS19 Takeaway: Workflow's Time Has Come

By Chuck Webster, MD, MSIE, MSIS; a HIMSS social media ambassador

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Chuck Webster, MD, MSIE, MSIS

If you paid attention to HIMSS19 headlines and social posts you'd be excused if you thought HIMSS19 was a healthcare conference with just a touch of workflow. See my pre-HIMSS19 post, What Can HIMSS19's New Exhibitors Tell Us About Health IT? for just a taste.

But I'm like a horse wearing blinders. I have a sharply defined interest: workflow. So I'll focus there.

An industrial engineer who went to medical school, I've been a public evangelist for great healthcare workflow through workflow technology, literally for decades, ever since I published my first refereed journal article on the subject in 1995. A decade ago I searched HIMSS conference sessions and exhibitors for workflow-related content. I found very little.

Workflow at HIMSS19

What a difference a decade makes (87,658 little hours!). At HIMSS19, workflow was everywhere. At one time I used to search and search and search for workflow, and then I'd make a big deal about whatever I could find. Then, there was just the right amount of workflow. By which I mean I could systematically catalog, write about and share about all of it.

At HIMSS19, workflow was like a metaphorical giant flood. As HIMSS19 approached I could feel a low-pitched rumble. Then, the week before, I could see this wall of workflow, in the distance, rapidly moving toward me. Finally, when HIMSS19 finally began, my little workflow boat was lifted and buffeted skyward, by an ocean of social posts about healthcare workflow:

  • Workflow and physician burnout
  • Workflow and orchestration technologies
  • Workflow and efficiency, productivity, and user and patient experience
  • Workflow and ________!

There was even a social poll that asked which was more important, workflow or data? Workflow won.

Workflow’s New Popularity

It really is quite a surreal feeling to predict something for so long, and then to see it not just happen, but happen on such a large and energetic scale.

I feel a bit like the Lone Ranger, who would save the day, and then utter the immortal words, "My work is done here," and ride off into the sunset.

Except, of course, all of this would have happened regardless whether I existed or not, or evangelized or not. But ... I do think I played a small but significant role in helping to speed diffusion of workflow thinking and workflow technology into healthcare.

During the last decade, I spent lots of time at conferences outside of healthcare, specifically at business process management conferences, which is what workflow management systems eventually came to be called. For many of these vendors, healthcare either was not even on their radar or just an idea that healthcare might be a good place to implement process-aware technologies.

Over-and-over, I'd tell them, you need to get to a HIMSS conference, as an attendee or, ideally, as an exhibitor. Gradually they took my advice. There were lots of workflow tech vendors exhibiting at HIMSS19.

In fact, something happened at HIMSS19 that was quite heartwarming. But first, let me set the stage. I have a hobby, making things using 3D-printing. For example, I'm making a small, customizable, interactive, 3D-printed robot for pediatricians, pediatric nurses, and child life specialists to entertain kids.

I bring my makerspace to HIMSS conferences because I am fascinated by the idea of clinicians and patients making their own solutions. Just as I am fascinated by the idea of clinicians and patients making their own workflows.

The thing that happened, over-and-over, at HIMSS19? People I met as long as a decade ago, at workflow conferences outside of healthcare, stopped by the #HIMSSmaker makerspace to say hi, talk shop, reminisce about their journeys into healthcare and to the HIMSS conference.

So, my key takeaway from HIMSS19? I use to speak of creating a wormhole between health IT and workflow tech continents. Well, those two worlds are now joined by a sizable isthmus. An isthmus that will continue to widen. Until ineffective workflows in healthcare become a fading memory.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.


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Originally published March 11, 2019