Written by: Brian Mack
HIMSS17

It has already been over a week since HIMSS17, the largest annual educational and networking conference for health IT professionals in the world. Most of the wrap-up articles, value summaries, criticisms, and other assorted postmortem blog posts have already been written, shared, and forgotten. My goal of submitting daily blog entries from Orlando went out the window just moments after I hit the exhibit floor. For whatever reason, the conference this year seemed even MORE hectic than usual. As a result, I intentionally took a few days to decompress, process, and reflect on the conference experience.

As in past years, one of my goals for HIMSS17 was to discern if any unofficial theme or “buzzword” would emerge from the collective consciousness of hundreds of educational presentations, >1,200 exhibitors, and >42,000 attendees.

But first, GLHC put the task of predicting the “HIMSS17 Buzzword of the Year” to the HIMSS public. Our Single Question Survey asked those who attend the conference what they thought would be this year’s unofficial theme. I’d like to thank HIMSS17 Social Media Ambassadors Mandi Bishop (@MandiBPro), and John Lynn (@TechGuy), for helping us get the word out! So without further ado, here are the results of our completely subjective and totally unscientific survey:

HIMSS17 Buzzword Chart

With a total of 65 unique responses, the popular vote went to “blockchain”, garnering 23% of the total responses. Interestingly, a quick search of the HIMSS17 conference website generated just nine references to “blockchain”; despite a day long pre-conference seminar dedicated to the topic.

For comparison, there were 251 references to “interoperability” which finished third in our survey. “Population Health”, the fourth most popular term rendered 177 references on the HIMSS17 website, and “Virtual Intelligence” receives the honorable mention in 5th place with just four references on the HIMSS website.

The second place position in our survey was held by the “Other” category. At 17% of the total, it was made up of single votes for 11 terms including “Bacterial Intelligence”, “Connected Patient”, “Consumerization”, “Fee-For-Value”, “MACRA”, “Patient Centered Data Home”, “Pink Socks”, “Resource Redistribution”, “Social Determinants of Health”, and “#WeLavaHIT”.

One term that was inadvertently left off the survey, but that I was surprised to not see in the “Other” category, was “telehealth”. Based on the amount of ink that this subject has received in industry press in the last year, I expected it to rank high in our collective consciousness. Even without appearing in our survey, “telehealth” is referenced 58 times on the HIMSS17 website, eclipsing the number of references for “blockchain”.

So what conclusions can be drawn from the survey responses as compared to the attention they received at HIMSS17?

Before that, I want to reiterate that the survey was totally subjective and unscientific. ANY conclusion should be viewed from that vantage point. That said, I think that the results reflect the reality that the Health IT zeitgeist moves faster than HIMSS institutional capacity to keep pace. This is perfectly understandable, and is merely an observation, not a criticism.

HITMC twitter

The HIMSS conference has become SO BIG that it is impossible for it to respond immediately to the change surrounding the very technology to which it is dedicated. As anyone involved in planning, presenting, or exhibiting at HIMSS will tell you, it is an arduous process that takes the better part of a year to prepare. If the tipping point of a new development in the space doesn’t coincide with the conference planning schedule, it will likely not get the attention it deserves. Another example of this phenomenon is with the subject of Virtual/Artificial Intelligence. Earlier this week, many participants in the #HITMC Twitter chat recap of HIMSS17 observed a lot of buzz among vendors and attendees on this topic, despite minimal “official” focus from the conference. To be fair, a full day pre-conference seminar dedicated to Blockchain is a pretty big deal, and is probably an indicator of the growing importance of the subject. It’s still early in the development of these topics, and right now I think there’s more heat than light being generated by them.

The reason for the growing interest in “blockchain” technology in healthcare is its potential use in establishing a secure means of unique patient identification (UPI) that will satisfy both politicians in Washington DC and the general public. This issue is a significant obstacle hindering the achievement of national interoperability. Some of the excitement surrounding Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the possibility of using it in harnessing Big Data Analytics to inform and improve care delivery in real time. As an aside, both of these terms were highlighted here in The Exchange as HIMSS Buzzwords in recent years; Interoperability in 2015 and Big Analytics in 2016.

I anticipate that “blockchain” and “Artificial Intelligence” focused presentations, solutions, and services will be much more prominently represented at HIMSS18. Here’s hoping that practical applications, efficacy, and outcomes will match the marketing hype.

Photo Credit: http://www.socialtalent.co/

My choice for the HIMSS17 Buzzword of the Year is Integration. It captures the spirit of my experience at this year’s conference. This choice is affirmed by the HIMSS17 website, which lists 255 references to the term.

Beyond the Health IT meaning typically associated with the word Integration, I found it to be an apt adjective to describe many of my interactions and experiences at this year’s conference. The political climate in our country, particularly as it relates to the state of healthcare reform and the potential implications for us working in HIT, is not entirely clear at the moment. Lack of clarity frequently results in a loss of momentum and a tendency to fall back on the familiar, rather than to push boundaries and embrace change. In strict IT terms, that might mean retracting into the shelter of established (ie: predictable) systems and solutions. But I sensed no such reticence among the presenters, exhibitors, and attendees at HIMSS17.

The vibe that pervaded HIMSS17 was energized and forward thinking. Beyond all the technological applications, I experienced many examples of integration that had nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with the purpose for which it exists in the first place – To support human interaction and collaboration that improves patient care at the point of care. Here are a few examples:

  • A meeting of the HIMSS17 Social Media Ambassadors emphasized the importance of stepping out from behind our social media avatars and getting to know the people behind the electronic personas. The introductions made, and relationships begun here were focused squarely on helping colleagues from across the continuum of Health IT disciplines benefit from the wealth of knowledge and capabilities that a meeting like HIMSS brings together.
  • According to impressions reported by several attendees, use of the Twitter hashtag #PinkSocks outpaced many of the “official” monikers sanctioned by the HIMSS organization. The Pink Socks Movement is a grass roots effort started by Nick Adkins, and dedicated to driving positive change in healthcare through personal connections, shared experiences, collaboration, and most importantly, FUN! The exponential growth of the Pink Socks “Tribe” was clearly evident by the hundreds of people (myself included) proudly sporting their brightly colored footwear on the exhibition floor throughout the week.
  • The Walking Gallery of Healthcare, founded in 2011 by artist and patient advocate Regina Holliday following the death of her husband, was on full display at HIMSS17. Dozens of empowered clinicians, professionals, and advocates could be seen throughout the conference wearing blazers, lab coats, and at least one leather jacket emblazoned with their own personal healthcare story in colorful mini-murals on their backs.
  • Another group of engaged HIMSS participants that convenes each year at HIMSS is known as the “Health IT Chicks” (#HealthITChicks on Twitter). This group was begun by journalist Jenn Dennard to promote the growth and professional development of women in Health IT. The focus of this year’s gathering was the important contributions being made by women in the field of behavioral health, and the need to incorporate behavioral healthcare information into a person’s personal health profile in order to have a complete understanding of their care needs.

These examples only scratch the surface of the collaborative spirit of integration present at HIMSS17. It was a loud and clear declaration that whatever the final outcome of the political wrangling happening with the Affordable Care Act in Washington DC, the health IT genie is NOT going back in the bottle. This year’s HIMSS conference confirmed the leading role that health IT will play in revolutionizing the practice and delivery of care, with the solid understanding that the proof will not be found in the latest and greatest technological advancements, but rather in the seamless, intuitive, and engaging interactions between patients and providers that technology can help facilitate, and ultimately in the improved quality of life that we all will share as a result

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