HIMSS17 roundup: Emerging technologies, reality check on ACA repeal, Dan Rather's reasons for optimism

This year’s conference hit on many healthcare trends, including machine learning, analytics, population health. And then there were Dan Rather, Ginni Rometty, John Boehner and Michael Leavitt. Here are the high points all in one place.
By Tom Sullivan
09:17 AM
HIMSS17 AI ACA analytics

The HIMSS17 conference in Orlando late last month spanned the gamut of technology topics — from artificial intelligence to more open EHRs to population health and security, among others. 

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, in fact, delivered the opening keynote wherein she said the industry is on the verge of a golden era for cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies and that transforming healthcare is now within our power.

That’s not to say achieving such change will be easy. The current administration’s back-and-forth about the fate of the Affordable Care Act is demonstrating how hard forging the path forward can be. After months of chanting "repeal and replace," now that the Republicans control both branches of Congress and the White House, in fact, questions persist about what exactly repeal means and what a replacement might look like.

Former House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans will "never ever agree" on the best way to replace Obama’s signature piece of legislation and that some provisions will remain in place.

[HIMSS17 big gallery: Memorable pics from this year's health IT conference]

Michael Leavitt, who has served as Utah Governor and Health and Human Services Secretary, meanwhile, predicted a repeal will pass by April's end but the legislation will include provisions to defer major changes for two to four years and echoed Boehner’s sentiment that some of the provisions will survive repeal. (Full video: Boehner on stage with HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.)  

Also striking a pragmatic and even optimistic note, former CBS anchor Dan Rather said that while Americans have faults, being afraid is not among those. “Whatever happens with the Trump administration, we’ll get through this,” Rather advised. "But depending on your political orientation, it will be a long dream or a long nightmare."

Technology, as it is every year, was also a big part of HIMSS17. The artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and machine learning theme that Rometty set in motion Monday morning continued throughout the week — while analytics, big data and population health all permeated.

NTT Data and Oracle, for instance, announced a collaboration to integrate NTT Data’s analytics with Oracle’s Healthcare Foundation platform.

Analytics specialist Health Catalyst, which announced the catalyst.ai initiative to embed machine learning in all its applications just before HIMSS17, banded together at the conference to commercialize Regenstrief’s natural language processing technology dubbed nDepth.

Jvion, meanwhile, scooped up Predixion in a move it said signals a beginning to market consolidation in the predictive analytics space.

Alongside the technological optimism, American Medical Association CMIO Michael Hodgkins said that EHRs are falling short. How and why?

"The innovator community knows a lot about technology," Hodgkins explained. "What they often don’t know a lot about is how healthcare professionals think."

That said, a study that HIMSS published during the show found that health IT’s impact overall is positive but that challenges remain, notably that provides are still struggling to find and retain top talent even though budgets are on the rise — while the disconnect between providers and vendors on clinical priorities persists.

EHR maker Epic's CEO Judy Faulkner, meanwhile, revealed that two less expensive versions of its software are in development, while Allscripts CEO Paul Black said the vendor is working to foster an ecosystem of innovation on its platform and Cerner president Zane Burke talked up an open to approach to interoperability; Black and Burke said APIs are the key.

The matter of information security was pressing at this year’s conference, with a Symantec study determining that healthcare is getting better, but much too slowly. Another piece of research announced at HIMSS17, from Thales Data, found that 81 percent of participants plan to ramp up security spending this year.

What healthcare organizations need most for successful cybersecurity, experts agreed, is more boardroom support and culture change.  

And in the realm of just plain cool, Battelle brandished NeuroLife technology that one real live patient is using to translate brain waves into physical movements. 

This article is part of our ongoing coverage of HIMSS17. Visit Destination HIMSS17 for previews, reporting live from the show floor and after the conference.

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