My HIMSS19 Takeaway: Mind the Gap

The megalithic healthcare conference, HIMSS19, has come and has gone from the vast former swampland of central Florida. While I’m a relative newcomer to the show’s trajectory – I’ve been to four of the annual tradeshows since 2011 – this year’s version was, for me, the most rewarding and complete of them all. This could be for one of several reasons. Perhaps because I no longer represent a vendor so sitting in the exhibit hall in a 30×30 booth with a fake smile wondering when the day’s tedium would end and the night’s socials would begin may impact my rosy outlook.

Or, maybe I was simply content to engage in the totality of the experience, attend some quality sessions, meet with many high-class people and discuss so-called news of the day/week/year. Doing so felt, well, almost like coming home. Or, perhaps my experience at the conference this year was so good because of running into former colleagues and acquaintances that drove me to such a place of contentment while there. No matter the reason, I enjoyed every minute of my time at the event.

Something else felt right. An energy – a vibe – something good, even great, seems/ed about to happen. Something important taking place in Orlando, and I was blessed to be a part of it. Kicking off the week, CMS created news – like it does every year at about this time – with its announcement that it will no longer allow health systems and providers to block patients from their data. This was a shot across the bow of interoperability and the industry’s lack of effort despite its constant gibberish and lip service to the topic.

Another fascinating thing that finally occurred to me: no matter the current buzzword, every vendor has a solution that’s perfect for said buzzword. Be it “patient engagement,” “interoperability,” “artificial intelligence,” “blockchain”; whatever the main talking point, every organization on the exhibit floor has an answer.

But, no one seems to have any real answers.

For example, after nearly a decade, we still don’t have an industry standard for interoperability. Patient engagement was once about getting people to use patient portals for, well, whatever. Then it was apps and device-driven technologies. We’re now somewhere in between all of these things.

AI? Well, hell. It’s either about mankind engineering the damnedest algorithms to automate the hell out of everything in the care setting (an over exaggeration) or that AI/machine learning will lead to the rise of machines, which will help care for and cure people – before ultimately turning on us and killing or enslaving us all (again, I’m overly exaggerating).

No matter. The whole thing at HIMSS is fun to witness, to watch and encounter. Like watching the present slowly slip by until it becomes the past. A moment witnessed that each of us will remember when that moment happened.

So what were this year’s takeaways from HIMSS? Depends on who you ask. In the coming days, I’ll be publishing some of the reactions to that very question from some of the people who were there, in the swamp, alongside me. People, who generally, are much smarter than I. But for now, I’ll leave you with my main takeaway from HIMSS19.

“Mind the gap.”

In nearly every conversation I had – with attorney Matthew Fisher about the CMS proposed rules; the folks at Deloitte and their predictions about the future of healthcare; to sessions featuring CMS administrator, Seema Verma; and interoperability showcases; and talks about social determinants of health – the dreaded gap always found a way into these conversations.

The gap between health systems and patients, and technology and care. Gaps between patients and their data. Gaps between interoperability and health data sharing. Gaps between who is responsible for what.

Gaps, that must be minded, drove all of my conversations at HIMSS. Despite these gaps, bridges must now be built to cross the gaps so that all of this – everything – that’s important to healthcare — patients and organizations like HIMSS — for any of “this” (see above) to succeed.

For the first time in my health IT career, though, it seemed as though the entire community came together and met for a meeting of the minds at healthcare technology’s top event. We all seemed to meeting in the gap. Even if that gap means something different to each of us, we were there together, as a community, in Orlando, waiting to see how the present will take us into history. In a place that I’ll always be able to recall.

The gap.

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