How to think about health at HIMSS14

How to think about health at HIMSS14
By Glen Tullman
12:00 AM

When you walk the floor at the HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition, it’s easy to be distracted by the largest booths from the big EHR and medical equipment providers. What you’ll find in these large booths are the basics: hospital information systems, billing, documentation and electronic health records.
They are primarily focused internally, on the needs of the hospital and the practice. Most of the larger players have spent the last few years responding to federal government mandates, such as meaningful use, ICD-10 and, more recently, ACA, that crowded out other desirable advances. All of this work was necessary but it is far from sufficient to realize the promise of health.

Today’s systems were built with too much of a focus on “substitution” and not “transformation.”

Documentation is basically done in silos without consideration of the overall needs of the patient. Getting data out of the systems and into the hands of the patient-centered care community is still far too hard. From what I have seen, and as Clayton Christensen has demonstrated time and time again across industries, large incumbents are ill-equipped to deal with innovation. To find the future of health and healthcare, you’ll have to look more carefully and visit some of the smaller, more innovative players that can afford to be at HIMSS or even venture outside to forums like Health 2.0 and Future Med.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. A good analogy is the move from heavy, old, inflexible and very expensive mainframes to light, easy to use and connected PCs, tablets and smartphones. As hospitals and health systems feel the cost-crunch and need to innovate, old “safe choice” investments will give way to newer technologies. Remember when an IBM mainframe was the safe choice – and how quickly did Dell and others surpass it? Fortunately, not only did the market make the change, but also IBM, with great leadership, was able to transform itself and today leads again in many areas.

So, when you walk the floor of HIMSS, I suggest you divide your time between two different viewpoints. 

First, search for the innovations that leverage your investment in the internally focused products provided by the big guys. These are the products that make EHRs easier to use and more productive or that add useful and actionable information to a care process. I speak to a lot of physicians and nurses who are frustrated by the lack of an intuitive interface and the amount of data that has to be entered.  EHRs can be more intuitive and predictive, powered by the very data that they are accessing. Analytics, like those provided by Truven and Humedica and others can make a significant difference in making information actionable.

The second, and I believe more important, viewpoint is to focus on where healthcare is going – and must go – to serve the “health consumer.” It’s no longer about patients but about engaging with all consumers (who will, of course, all become patients eventually). The smart players engage before a health event, allowing them to already have a relationship, and then inform their health consumers with tools to allow for better, higher quality, more cost-effective choices.

It’s also about information and access. Assume all of your customers (or the folks who used to be your customers) will have access to more and better information about market choices. Think transparency. And then determine how you stack up. One of our portfolio investments, Wiser Together, does just what the name implies. It uses cloud-based crowd-sourced data based on surveys of patients and physicians, backed by a very sophisticated analytics engine, to help health consumers make healthcare choices. Armed with that information, they are more engaged, more satisfied, spend less and receive, on average, better outcomes. That’s pretty powerful.

Third, it’s all about mobility. You have to engage the health consumer. Right now, the real ubiquitous device is called the mobile phone. Everything will be mobile, whether a phone or a device. 

We all have heard about the Fitbit, the Nike Fuel band. Now Jawbone is using its own band to remind people to take their meds. Wearable clothing that makes you cool is heating up. Even babies are getting onesies that will help monitor their breathing. Many of these devices will passively transmit data to enable the fourth trend, which is population management.

This real-time data and the ability to either directly provide feedback or supply that data, which, with the help of strong analytics, becomes valuable information for care coaches, navigators, coordinators or anyone else in the care chain. They can now add back the most important element and the fifth trend: people paired with technology.

We don’t talk about “interventions,” we talk about intelligent coaching. Care coaches, backed by accurate, insightful, real-time data, can make a real difference in the ability to influence and change behavior. Increasingly, whether it’s directing people to the best places to receive care, explaining why they don’t need care (aka reducing unnecessary utilization) or helping them change behavior that has devastating long-term effects, people matter. Notice I didn’t just say physicians or nurses or even pharmacists. Although critically important, they may not be the best coaches – and they are surely not the most cost-effective ones. 

So, as you walk the HIMSS show floor, think about these five trends.

At 7wire Ventures, the investment firm we run, we believe every decision now needs to consider the Intelligent Connected Health Consumer, and that’s what we are increasingly discussing with boards we advise around the country. There are two industries left that have not seen the positive impact technology can have, and they happen to be our most important: healthcare and education. That will change, and it all begins at HIMSS14.

Glen Tullman is managing partner at 7wire Ventures, a Chicago investment firm providing funding and operating guidance to companies that can make a difference addressing key social issues primarily in healthcare and education.