HIMSS12 conference recap

By Miriam Paramore
10:35 AM

Again this year, I am completely blown away by the success of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Annual Conference. HIMSS is a cause-based, not-for-profit organization focused on providing global leadership for the optimal use of information technology (IT) and management systems for the betterment of healthcare. I have had the pleasure of serving on the national HIMSS Board of Directors for the past three years and it has been an honor to help lead the HIMSS organization as it works to “transform healthcare through IT.”

The annual conference always draws a huge crowd, but this year experienced record-breaking attendance with more than 37,000 participants! The weeklong event held in Las Vegas drew not only record “repeat” attendance, but also record new or first time attendance. What a great indication that the HIMSS mission is gaining traction amongst stakeholders old and new. HIMSS wasn’t the only winner in Vegas that week, by the way, I won $55 at the blackjack table…

In addition to a winning turnout, the annual conference provided more than 300 educational opportunities on topics from accountable care to public policy and clinical information exchange. Powerful presentations from healthcare thought leaders and influencers packed the daily educational schedule. Further, the keynote lineup resembled a posh Hollywood party with stars like Biz Stone of Twitter and Terry Moran of Nightline. My personal favorite was Dr. Connie Mariano, literally “The White House Doctor,” who was the personal physician to Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. She had hilarious White House stories and inspiring personal anecdotes to tell during her speech to roughly 250 attendees at the HIMSS Public Policy Breakfast.

One theme that resonated among the crowds was the trend toward mobile healthcare and new emerging technologies. Many of the first time vendors in the exhibit hall demonstrated some version of an electronic health record (EHR), a big area of movement in recent years. Social media and connecting throughout the patient encounter were also broadly discussed this year. These emerging trends, especially in mobile and social technology, are an absolute necessity to move healthcare forward and I found it refreshing to hear so much buzz about new technology on the horizon.

Another topic fresh on the minds of the HIMSS constituents is in no way new. As a matter of fact it’s quite old: the ICD-10 code conversion—an area the United States lags behind most other countries. The delay in adopting the new code sets is evidence of the overwhelming compliance burden we face in healthcare when it comes to technical and regulatory standards. Leading up to the conference, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it will initiate a process to postpone the date by which certain healthcare entities have to comply with ICD-10. It’s still not certain when that process will begin, but I could almost hear the collective sigh of relief across the tradeshow floor upon receiving this news. Healthcare IT implementers in particular can appreciate a little bit of breathing room on the heels of the HIPAA 5010 transition that occurred earlier this year.

Still, many healthcare organizations – particularly payers and large health systems – are concerned about the implications of a delay. Many have already invested, or are in the process of investing, millions in remediation of their internal systems from ICD-9 to ICD-10, and don’t want to lose momentum or have to hit the re-start button down the road.

And finally, another industry announcement that created a stir at the national conference was the release of the proposed Meaningful Use Stage 2 rules. The CMS incentive program to inspire physicians to implement EHR solutions for their patients will now have a second stage of requirements and is expected to begin in 2014. Just like Stage 1, the new phase will have a pre-determined core list of requirements mandatory to qualify for the federal incentive dollars, as well as additional options that can count towards qualification. The proposed rules for Stage 2 include greater demands for the number and frequency of electronic transactions, like electronic prescribing and lab orders and results, and a strong focus on incorporating the patient encounter and exchanging information with the actual patient.

Since much of Stage 2 focuses on further utilization of existing functionality in EHR systems, I’m hoping the early adopters will find it fairly straightforward to do more of the same. For the first timers—folks who have not yet started the Meaningful Use journey—it will be a much heavier lift.

Regardless of whether you participated in HIMSS as an attendee, exhibitor or speaker, I hope you found this year’s conference to be as valuable and enjoyable as I did. I look forward to the HIMSS annual conference every year because I so enjoy the opportunity to convene with like-minded healthcare folks who are truly invested in creating a better healthcare system, and who agree that information and IT are part of the solution. I urge you all to get actively involved in HIMSS and join me and the other 44,000 volunteers to truly “transform healthcare through IT.”

I very much look forward to seeing everyone again next year in New Orleans.