THINK TANK | Three Lasting Impressions from HIMSS17

Last month I had the pleasure of spending four days at HIMSS17, the annual conference of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Nearly 50,000 clinicians, IT professionals, educators, researchers, government officials, and vendors were in attendance. The conference offers attendees time to see and hear the latest and greatest in healthcare technology. Innovative ideas and products are on display and folks come together to show off their new wares, discuss the future of healthcare in an IT framework, and examine how technological advances can help resolve or lessen the impact of healthcare-related issues. There are discussions, demonstrations, and trainings on topics like cybersecurity, patient engagement, interoperability, telehealth and many more information and technology related fields.

I walked away from this year’s conference with three distinct impressions, each a product of my personal and vocational experiences. The first impression: attention on the needs of long-term care individuals, including those with behavioral health and individuals with IDD, and the impact of healthcare on the social determinates of health for these individuals is not where it needs to be. I do not see this limitation as an intentional desire to create a separation in the healthcare world, but more a failure to understand the ways to use technology effectively to address the needs of this population. I will say I believe this is changing. Although most of the conference tracks didn’t address long-term care there were lively conversations. And while the stratification of the long-term care population is still somewhat fragmented and does not accurately address the needs of the behavioral health and I/DD communities, as pressure continues I do believe long-term care issues will begin to receive equal recognition at the discussion table.

My second impression: although much is discussed about the impact of HIPAA and cybersecurity, many providers and clinicians do not recognize the potential impact of either a HIPAA violation or a breach in the security of the electronic health information for which they are responsible. Ongoing education of staff, policies and guidelines should be continuously reviewed and updated, and staff should be trained on at least an annual basis. Terminology like ransomware should be understood by all staff touching electronic protected health information (ePHI). If your agency does not have a cybersecurity plan, including one that addresses HIPAA awareness, your organization needs to start putting one in place today.

My third impression: HOPE. The tools needed to improve healthcare, including long-term care for individuals, already exist. The tools are at our fingertips and if you are reading this you are most likely already using one of those tools, an Electronic Health Record (EHR) or electronic record. For many, the information captured in an EHR is helpful but isn’t being used at its full potential. An EHR with interoperability is not only a nice thing to have, it’s actually a requirement if your agency is going to participate in the healthcare world of tomorrow. There’s increased attention focused on how to make the “patient” experience not only more cost-effective but also more satisfying and beneficial for the individual receiving support. An EHR with interoperability can help support that experience.

While the exact outcome is unclear now, the fact is, we are in an era where healthcare is more and more technologically dependent. It’s being used to improve health and manage costs, and it is important that agencies are informed and active participants in the movement.