HIMSS17: Mind the gap

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EY - Mind the gap

Dana Alexander
RN, Executive Director
Health Advisory, EY

This year, as more than 40,000 healthcare IT professionals gathered in Orlando for the 2017 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society annual conference (HIMSS17), there were some notable challenges and gaps. Disparity in data. Holes in cybersecurity. A chasm in care models between fee-for-service and fee-for-value. The inconsistent application of artificial intelligence. The divide between technology and human nature that is inhibiting a positive digital experience for patients.

But for all the vernacular about voids, there was also an inspiring, optimistic sense that innovative solutions will be found, and patient care will continue to progress toward a state of improved quality, better experience and lower cost. This trend was seen in four notable takeaways from HIMSS17:

  1. Data remains a catalyst and a shackle. Data has held so much promise in healthcare for so long. But how to finally capitalize on data enough to glean actionable insights that truly improve care was once again a dominant conversation topic at HIMSS. Unfortunately, EMR interoperability and disparate systems remain a sticky spot for many. Implementing solutions such as blockchain technology is one approach that can help health systems achieve data nirvana – with clean, accurate, properly indexed, de-fragmented and interoperable patient information accessible across the care continuum.
  2. Similarly, there was much promise at HIMSS about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve health outcomes, and even keep people from getting sick in the first place. The potential of AI to provide insights for predictive, personalized and precision medicine is powerful. But it is important to note that AI will be most effective when it is combined with active human decision making, and we’re already seeing forms of AI combine with human brainpower to make a difference for health clients. For example, robotics process automation (RPA) is helping people work at the top of their skill set, reduce cost and improve quality.
  3. The discussions about data-driven advancements extended to improving the patient experience. “Digital experience” was a hot topic, with many aiming to provide a seamless, personalized and engaging experience for patients. This is more than just redesigning a website or patient portal. It requires the industry to truly understand patients and provide them with the information they need, where they need it, and when they need it. The best way to use technology to engage, empower and motivate patients is to meet patients where they are.
  4. Women are having a rising influence in health IT. This was most profoundly evident at the HIMSS Most Influential Women in Health IT event, which EY sponsored. It included an awards ceremony, roundtable discussion and video interview with my colleague Suzi Grizancic. Event discussion centered on how to create a path to leadership for women in health IT through mentoring of potential female leaders, the creation of family-friendly corporate policies and the elimination of gender bias in corporate culture. These goals align with our Women Fast Forward initiative, which aims to accelerate gender parity in the workplace.

All these trends are unfolding on a political landscape that is unpredictably changing. Shadows from uncertainty and unanswerable questions fell across many discussions about the future of health IT, creating the largest gap at HIMSS17 – a gap in surety about the best way forward. The divergence from the relative certainty of the Affordable Care Act’s march toward value-based care is causing healthcare leaders and innovators to move cautiously.

But as former Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt told a HIMSS audience, there are at least three significant reasons why some sort of bipartisan agreement on reform will be achieved:

  1. Fee-for-service and fragmented care is a problem
  2. Coordinated care is better than non-coordinated care
  3. There is a need to bend the cost curve

Solutions for those problems will be needed. HIMSS17 showed us that even amid uncertainty, the organizations that remain focused on finding solutions to the industry’s biggest problems will be the ones to bridge the gap to better patient outcomes.

Dana Alexander, RN, is an executive director in the Advisory Health practice at Ernst & Young LLP and sits on the Board of Directors for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). She is based in Denver, and can reached at dana.alexander@ey.com.