As usual, attendees will get updates on the direction of health IT policy from the U.S. government's Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), in the form of a keynote Thursday from national coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari and several other ONC-led sessions. There is sure to be plenty of talk about electronic health records (EHRs) and the Meaningful Use incentive program.
Also on the minds of CIOs are the conversion to ICD-10 coding in the next year and a half, as well as implementation of various aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Those are the obvious subjects, but there are plenty of other issues emerging or lingering in health IT. In an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare at HIMSS headquarters in Chicago last week, HIMSS CEO H. Stephen Lieber discussed some of the other topics his organization is highlighting at the annual conference, as well as themes he expects to emerge. Here are four trends to watch for:
1. EHR-Device Interoperability.
Much of the recent angst about EHR efficacy has stemmed from the slow pace of connecting disparate information systems at different healthcare organizations and even between inpatient and ambulatory departments under the same roof. But, as HIMSS and other groups, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, discussed last fall, it's even more complicated than that: a new generation of "smart" medical devices and monitors is producing electronic data, and EHRs generally are not equipped to handle that output. Even if they are, the links are not there yet.
"It is much more complex from a technological standpoint than getting two electronic applications in a common format with the technical framework between them for them to share data," Lieber said about EHR-device interoperability. Information coming out of medical devices has to be formatted properly, as does the EHR to be able to accept and process such data, he noted.
The Interoperability Showcase, a regular feature on the HIMSS show floor, this year will feature a demonstration of connectivity between medical devices and clinical information systems, but the technology still is in the testing stages. Unlike pretty much every other aspect of the Interoperability Showcase, this demonstration will not be using "live" patient data. "It's a demo. This is what's possible. This is how can it be done. It doesn't reflect active products on the market," Lieber said.
When interoperability between devices and EHRs becomes widespread, it could go a long way to alleviate the nursing shortage by making nurses and other clinicians more efficient because they no longer will have to engage in laborious data transcription from medical devices.
"This is what technology does. It makes people more efficient because they can rely upon technology doing things that we did manually before. It very much can have an impact on nursing shortages, physician shortages in remote areas, rural areas, and inner-city areas," Lieber said.
"There's a tremendous amount of improvement with the workforce that is possible and isn't possible any other way. You simply can't make nurses more efficient, more productive without some new tools. Otherwise, you're just left to ask them to work more, work harder, work faster."
2. Patients As Consumers.
The idea of patient-centeredness is not new, nor is the idea of empowered patients. But neither concept is widespread -- yet. As accountable care takes hold, healthcare providers necessarily will have to pay more than lip service to improving the patient experience, including medical outcomes.
"Finally, the American healthcare system is starting to pay attention to and take seriously the idea of patient-centered care. People have talked about it for a generation," Lieber said. With this in mind, HIMSS13 will feature a three-session forum on patient engagement.
Patient engagement is about more than just patient satisfaction scores and ratings, Lieber said, and it stretches beyond the walls of the hospital or clinic. "It's looking at how technology enhances the patient experience and the healthcare consumer experience," Lieber said. "[It means] actually doing things that make it easier on the healthcare consumer before they're in an institution and being a patient, absolutely."
The HIMSS chief said healthcare providers have not always made things easier on patients, largely because consumers still are not asking for it. "As consumers we're not there yet in terms of saying, 'I'm not going to go to you if you don't do these things,'" according to Lieber.
"We as consumers still aren't demanding of our healthcare like we ought to. When I think about obtaining results, most physicians still make you go to the office to get the results on paper. They don't post them online," Lieber said. Scheduling also is an inefficient, inconvenient manual process, taking place on the phone more often than online.
Online consultations would be "a huge efficiency," Lieber added, if only physicians could be reimbursed for their time.
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 14, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.