Why I Was Not at HIMSS, and Why I’m Better for It

As the excitement of the festivities continued to roil on in Chicago for the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, and as health systems leaders merged with colleagues and partners for what is health IT’s biggest event of the year, I was not among those in attendance. As the conference opened and buzz at the show began to swell, excitement for news and new developments flowed from nearly every available channel, I was back home, far from the excitement of the show or its announcements, developments and news makers.

As health system leaders and their technology partners discussed how their solutions could make care better, engage patients more effectively and lead to better outcomes, greater efficiencies and higher quality care, my wife and I were in the center of the care universe in the heart of our local hospital where I was helping her through the delivery of our second child. Though the process was relatively straight forward and was done very quickly, the experience made me realize several things about healthcare technology from the patient’s perspective.

The first thing is that no matter how important we claim the technology used in the care setting to be, it matters little to those receiving care. For those receiving care, they want and need a seamless process where they have immediate access, without a wall of technology between them, to their care providers whether that’s a nurse, physician or some other support personnel. Patients, at the point of care, don’t want to face the burdens of interacting with the technology their caregivers are concerned with, but we as patients want their full attention. If patients must break through a fourth wall of technology, as I’ve seen to be the case on more than one occasion, the care staff, and more importantly, the health system, has failed the patient.

Secondly, patient engagement is more than a portal or access to one. And while patient engagement means different things to different provider types – like ambulatory vs. in-patient –the patient is still at the heart of the care, not the technology. Those who believe that technology can solve the patient engagement ills are wrong, and likely are failing to truly engage patients because they believe the myth that it can. Perhaps meaningful use has bastardized the term “patient engagement,” but it’s a sad thing when the entirety of that conversation centers around some form of technology or device. The irony of an event like HIMSS, where most of health’s relevant vendors clamor to meet with health system leaders, is that the buzz is built to surround the movement of the patient.  The patient is at the heart of care, not technology or some bolt-on software solution.

We, patients, have been at the heart of care since the existence of healthcare; technology is an infant at play here. Let’s not forget that.

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