This past week I had the pleasure of traveling, along with MedTech Media Editorial Director Rich Pizzi, to Amelia Island, Fla. for the inaugural HIMSS Leaders & Innovators conference.
There, a select group of senior healthcare executives – CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and more – spent two days discussing and defining approaches to the myriad challenges faced by the American healthcare system.
Atop the agenda: how to achieve return-on-investment for health IT acquisitions. After all, technology is key to lowering costs, widening access and improving quality – but its up-front costs can be daunting, especially in these cash-strapped times.
To help bring these issues into focus, HIMSS assembled an impressive two-day slate of speakers and presenters – emceed by former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs – from across the healthcare industry and beyond.
On Wednesday evening, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, MD, and Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, MD, kicked things off with a friendly debate about the future of healthcare, proffering their prognostications about what will happen in this pivotal election year – one in which President Obama's healthcare reform law will be brought before the Supreme Court.
The next day, several of health IT's leading lights offered their own maps for the road ahead. Department of Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer Todd Park offered an impassioned speech showing how innovative practices and ROI are not mutually exclusive. Susan DeVore, president and CEO of the Premier healthcare alliance laid out her case for aligning quality to achieve value. C. Martin Harris, MD, the CIO of the Cleveland Clinic offered insight from his experience as a national healthcare technology pioneer. David Bailey, MD, president and CEO of Nemours children's health system discussed the ways to optimize metrics portfolios.
On Friday, Aetna Chairman, CEO and President Mark Bertolini showed how technology can be deployed to truly transform the healthcare system, and Ken Coburn, MD, CEO and medical director of Health Quality Partners, offered lessons from the trenches on improving access, quality and outcomes and lowering costs.
All inspiring discussions to be sure. But on Thursday evening, Ben Stein – lawyer, economist, commentator, actor, quiz show host – splashed a bit of comedic cold water, describing, in his inimitable voice, to much laughter, how the foibles of human nature may be the biggest stumbling block to effecting the change we need.
Still, there's no doubt that change is badly needed.
The conference speakers returned again and again to several key themes. Healthcare delivery continuing to eat up 18 percent of America's GDP is simply not feasible. It's vital for providers, patients and payers, to collaborate and share in accountability. Analyzing clinical and enterprise intelligence is central to improving care – and so is engagement of patients in their own well being.
Most important: implementing electronic health records and other health IT is crucial to making headway on any of these goals.
The C-suite execs Rich and I spoke to at the Leaders & Innovators event all seemed especially excited and empowered to return to their respective hospitals and clinics and continue the hard work of addressing these issues. (Check back at the websites of Healthcare IT News and Healthcare Finance News soon to see video interviews with some of them.)
"The HIMSS Leaders & Innovators program brings together healthcare senior executives who will help drive leadership, innovation and overall strategic discussion and direction around current topics facing anyone in healthcare," said HIMSS President and CEO H. Stephen Lieber. "Executives have the authority and the vision to transform healthcare. As a cause-based non-profit organization, our role is to convene these leaders and create an environment in which the transformation can happen."