Reflecting on HIMSS 2019

Written by: Brian Mack
HIMSS19 Champions of Health Unite

Every year, I marvel at those who are able to recap the annual HIMSS Global Conference within minutes of the closing keynote. I admire their ability to find quick and succinct clarity. Drawing conclusions from all the information that is presented during the weeklong conference is no easy task.

For my part, some separation is required to reflect and process before some conference impressions come clearly into focus. The upside of this delayed reaction is having the advantage of reviewing others’ takeaways before releasing my own. Several of the recaps I have read point to the continued emphasis on subjects including Interoperability, Artificial Intelligence, and Data Analytics. But my sense was that no single new technology really captured the imagination of this year’s conference.

Perhaps it is fitting then, that the things that struck me this year are not directly technology related. Before the impact of HIMSS 2019 fades from our collective consciousness, I offer two dominant themes from my own observations, federal regulations and the humanity of technology.


The Changing Tactics of Federal Regulators

On February 11, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), released draft language for new guidelines to address patient access to electronic health data and to clarify definitions for what constitutes “data blocking” where patient access is concerned. The timing of this release was designed to capture maximum attention from the global thought leaders assembled for HIMSS19.

The ONC version of the guidelines, titled the “Proposed Rule on Interoperability and Information Blocking”, is 724 pages. These documents are required for both agencies by the 21st Century Cures Act, and for CMS the language also supports its commitment to their “MyHealthEData” initiative.

Elise Sweeney Anthony, Executive Director of the ONC Office of Policy (left) and Steven Posnack, Executive Director of the ONC Office of Technology (right)

Elise Sweeney Anthony, Executive Director of the ONC Office of Policy (left) and Steven Posnack, Executive Director of the ONC Office of Technology (right)

The announcement of the new draft language was made at the opening keynote session of the HIMSS19 Preconference Symposium on Interoperability and Health Information Exchange. Not coincidentally, the opening session was co-presented by Elise Sweeney Anthony, Executive Director of the ONC Office of Policy, and Steven Posnack, Executive Director of the ONC Office of Technology. These leaders are two of the primary architects of the proposed regulations.

HHS has used the HIMSS conference as a launch pad for major announcements in the past. Therefore, it is safe to say that HIMSS19 attendees did anticipate something. Had the conference been held in Las Vegas this year, we all would have taken bets on the release of a revised version of The Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA). Especially, since the public comment period on the initial draft closed over a year ago.

When asked about TEFCA “Version 2” in the Q & A period following their presentation, both Anthony and Posnack demurred, saying that it was “in progress”. No re-release date has been announced.

In my opinion, the release of the proposed rule dominated the “buzz” at HIMSS19. Check out the GLHC #HIMSS19 Buzzword of the Year announcement for more.  However, the timing and sheer size of the document made it virtually impossible to offer any sort of informed response or analysis DURING the conference.

The idealistic and hopeful part of my brain wants to believe that the release of the proposed rule signals a sincere shift by Federal regulators to genuinely engage and incentivize individuals to take an active role in their own health and healthcare management. Meanwhile, the nagging cynical half of my brain wonders if choosing to prioritize patient-focused information and data-blocking over TEFCA is an acquiescence to the challenge of creating an additional mandated layer of unfunded bureaucracy as a “solution” for achieving national interoperability. Is it possible that HHS anticipates a wellspring of consumer-based support from this announcement? Would this support influence the adoption of the final TEFCA rule when it is released? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, the ONC has made a variety of resources available on their website. CMS has published its version in the Federal Register and is accepting comments through early April, 2019.


Finding The Humanity in Healthcare Technology

The theme of the 2019 global HIMSS conference was “Champions of Health Unite”. Graphics, like the one below, featured groups of or individual “Champions”. These healthcare and health IT professionals represent a broad and diverse cross-section of backgrounds and expertise.

Kudos to HIMSS for overtly recognizing the humanity behind the technology. At the risk of sounding hokey, it really was inspiring to think about what is being accomplished thanks to the collaborative efforts of the countless people BEHIND the technology.

HIMSS 19 Champions of Health Unite

Given the conference theme, it’s notable that the voices of patients and providers also played a significant role at HIMSS this year. Here is just a sampling of people whose advocacy efforts were on display.

Grace Cordovano

Grace Cordovano, PhD (@GraceCordovano)

Dr. Cordovano is a board certified patient advocate (BPCA), and founder of Enlightening Results. Grace’s practice is focused on education, care coordination, support, and advocacy for Cancer patients. She is passionate about elevating the patient’s and the care partner’s voice.


Jen Horonjeff

Jen Horonjeff, PhD (@JHoronjeff)

Jen is the Founder and CEO of Savvy Cooperative, a patient-owned co-op that facilitates patient and professional collaboration in healthcare innovations. She was diagnosed as an infant with juvenile arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, and five years ago had a brain tumor removed. Jen also holds a PhD in Environmental Medicine and is a patient-centered outcomes researcher at Columbia University Medical Center.


Dave deBronkart

Dave deBronkart (@ePatientDave)

HIMSS just wouldn’t be HIMSS without the presence of the “original” patient advocate. Dave is a cancer survivor, accomplished writer, and in-demand speaker. He works tirelessly to advance the cause of breaking down the barriers that inhibit data sharing, with a specific emphasis on making health care information available directly to patients. More information on Dave can be found at


Janae Sharp

Janae Sharpe (@CoherenceMed)

Janae is a Healthcare IT marketing, communications, and interoperability consultant, and also served as a HIMSS19 Social Media Ambassador. Janae is also a physician suicide survivor and the founder of the Sharp Index. The Sharp Index has a mission to reduce physician suicide and provide meaningful tools to improve provider quality of life.


The influence of advocates like these cannot be overstated. This is especially important at a conference, like HIMSS, where the flash and dazzle of the technology can overwhelm and distract from the ultimate purpose it was created to address – improving quality of life for us all.

The Closing Keynote

This year’s closing keynote by Mick Ebeling (@MickEbeling) of Not Impossible Labs, wrapped up HIMSS19 on an appropriately uplifting note. Mick’s work focuses on creating “technology for the sake of humanity”.

Mick Ebeling

His presentation opened with a story about how he was inspired to apply the skills and process he uses in creating multi-media productions to finding DIY solutions to solve what he described as “absurd” problems. It all started when he heard about an artist who had been imprisoned in his own body due to the ravages of ALS(Lou Gehrig’s disease). Mick and his team cobbled together a prototype for what ultimately became the EyeWriter. This is a system that uses eye-tracking technology to let the artist draw again.

This initial success led to a desire to solve other absurd problems. This includes developing a process to create 3d-printed arms for amputees in Sudan and a system to help those with hearing impairments experience music – which unexpectedly also was shown to be effective in reducing tremors in Parkinson’s patients!

Mick’s closing comments were particularly inspiring. He said, “Everything that is possible today was once impossible”. He implored us not to be intimidated or defeated by the challenges that limit progress. Instead, we should revolt against the absurd around us, be inspired by the opportunity to help even one person, and determinedly strive toward finding solutions to those problems.

I can think of no better way to end HIMSS19. This message can directly be applied to the work that GLHC and others in health IT are collectively tasked with doing – innovating healthcare through the use of technology.