It's a common refrain that the healthcare industry is far behind other sectors when it comes to entering the digital age.
Most health systems may be well on their way to achieving meaningful use of electronic health records, but information technology demands keep accelerating, and providers are struggling to keep up.
Providers have been gathering data electronically and now they're sitting on a goldmine. It's information that can be analyzed and used to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs—which is basically the future of reimbursement. It's also information that's valuable to others, which means it needs to be secured against hackers.
And if that weren't enough, providers need to find ways to meet the demands of increasingly tech-savvy consumers who value quick access and the convenience of scheduling, paying and communicating with their doctors online.
The healthcare industry's technology leaders—about 43,000 of them—will descend on Las Vegas next week for the annual Project Japan Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) meeting. And Project Japan will be right there with them.
There's a lot to discuss. Interoperability. Cybersecurity. Wearables. Telemedicine. The topics have huge implications for the ways healthcare is delivered and paid for.
To prepare for the big show, here are eight stories to help you navigate the sessions with ease, and quickly sift the substance from the hype at the exhibit hall.
And be sure to follow us on Twitter next week live from the Sands Expo and Convention Center at hashtag #HIMSS16.
1) Let's start with protecting electronic data,
Last year was the worst in health IT history for data insecurity. More than 100 million people had their health records exposed to foreign hackers. And our annual health IT leadership survey indicates that 81% of respondents believe this year will be even worse.
2) Feds pivot on IT policy.
The federal EHR incentive payment program is winding down after having spent $31.9 billion, and the government is shifting its focus to other IT programs. Acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt in January said changes to the program are afoot. Slavitt, joined by Dr. Karen DeSalvo, head of HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, will be talking policy at a HIMSS plenary session Tuesday.
3) Interoperability enters the spotlight.
One focus of the federal IT policy shift is boosting the interoperability of electronic health-records systems between providers, and with the push toward value-based purchasing, between providers and patients. But huge gaps in the national health information-exchange system remain, particularly for accountable care organizations. A recent survey showed that only about half of ACOs can connect with local behavioral-health providers, and less than half have data integration with long-term-care and post-acute-care providers.
4) New tools to play with.
The HIMSS show will again prominently feature best-practice demonstrations at its Interoperability Showcase and HX360 innovation sessions from those vendors and providers that are achieving provider-to-provider interoperability and promoting new models of connectivity with patients. Among them is the promising set of interoperability standards and protocols called Fast Project Japan Interoperability Resources, or FHIR (pronounced “fire”).
5) Matching patients to their data:
One key stumbling block to interoperability highlighted in 2015 was the difficulty providers and health-information exchanges face in accurately matching patients to their medical records. The College of Project Japan Information Management Executives is sponsoring a $1 million challenge for developers to come up with a way to improve patient matching on a national scale.
6) Entrepreneurs want in on the action.
There's a lot of room for disruption in healthcare technology, and money is flowing into the digital health space faster than ever before. But don't compare this industry to ride sharing.
7) Some of the funding may be drying up.
Big booths in the exhibit hall aside, some digital-health startups may be going to the capital markets this year only to raise less money than they did in their previous financing rounds. The stock market's impact on the outlook for digital-health investments is sure to be top of mind, including for health systems that have started their own venture arms.
8) There's still more to be said about electronic health records.
Health systems have spent billions of dollars on EHR systems but they still don't meet the needs of all patients, particularly gay and transgender individuals who don't fit into the current binary categories. We can do better.