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Could Clinicians Create Better HIE Tools?

Posted on August 13, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Andy Oram.His post reminds me of when I asked “Is Full Healthcare Interoperability a Pipe Dream?

A tense and flustered discussion took place on Monday, August 11 during a routine meeting of the HIT Standards Committee Implementation Workgroup, a subcommittee set up by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), which takes responsibility for U.S. government efforts to support new IT initiatives in the health care field. The subject of their uncomfortable phone call was the interoperability of electronic health records (EHRs), the leading issue of health IT. A number of “user experience” reports from the field revealed that the situation is not good.

We have to look at the depth of the problem before hoping to shed light on a solution.

An interoperability showcase literally takes the center of the major health IT conference each year, HIMSS. When I have attended, they physically arranged their sessions around a large pavilion filled with booths and computer screens. But the material on display at the showcase is not the whiz-bang features and glossy displays found at most IT coventions (those appear on the exhibition floor at HIMSS), but just demonstrations of document exchange among EHR vendors.

The hoopla over interoperability at HIMSS suggests its importance to the health care industry. The ability to share coordination of care documents is the focus of current government incentives (Meaningful Use), anchoring Stage 2 and destined to be even more important (if Meaningful Use lasts) in Stage 3.

And for good reason: every time we see a specialist, or our parent moves from a hospital to a rehab facility, or our doctor even moves to another practice (an event that recently threw my wife’s medical records into exasperating limbo), we need record exchange. If we ever expect to track epidemics better or run analytics that can lower health case costs, interoperability will matter even more.

But take a look at extensive testing done by a team for the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, recently summarized in a posting by health IT expert Brian Ahier. When they dug into the documents being exchanged, researchers found that many vendors inserted the wrong codes for diagnoses or drugs, placed results in the wrong fields (leaving them inaccessible to recipients), and failed to include relevant data. You don’t have to be an XML programmer or standards expert to get the gist from a list of sample errors included with the study.

And that list covers only the problems found in the 19 organizations who showed enough politeness and concern for the public interest to submit samples–what about the many who ignored the researchers’ request?

A slightly different list of complaints came up at the HIT Standards Committee Implementation Workgroup meeting, although along similar lines. The participants in the call were concerned with errors, but also pointed out the woeful inadequacy of the EHR implementations in representing the complexities and variety of patient care. Some called for changes I find of questionable ethics (such as the ability to exclude certain information from the data exchange while leaving it in the doctor’s records) and complained that the documents exchanged were not easy for patients to read, a goal that was not part of the original requirements.

However, it’s worth pointing out that documents exchange would fall far short of true coordinated care, even if everything worked as the standards called for. Continuity of care documents, the most common format in current health information exchange, have only a superficial sliver of diagnoses, treatments, and other immediate concerns, but do not have space for patient histories. Data that patients can now collect, either through fitness devices or self-reporting, has no place to be recorded. This is why many health reformers call for adopting an entire new standard, FHIR, a suggestion recognized by the ONC as valid but postponed indefinitely because it’s such a big change. The failure to adopt current formats seems to become the justification for keeping on the same path.

Let’s take a step back. After all those standards, all those certifications, all those interoperability showcases, why does document exchange still fail?

The JAMIA article indicated that failure can be widely spread around. There are rarely villains in health care, only people pursuing business as usual when that is insufficient. Thus:

  • The Consolidated CDA standard itself could have been more precisely defined, indicating what to do for instance when values are missing from the record.

  • Certification tests can look deeper into documents, testing for instance that codes are recorded correctly. Although I don’t know why the interoperability showcase results don’t translate into real-world success, I would find it quite believable that vendors might focus on superficial goals (such as using the Direct protocols to exchange data) without determining whether that data is actually usable.

  • Meaningful Use requirements (already hundreds of pages long) could specify more details. One caller in the HIT Standards Committee session mentioned medication reconciliation as one such area.

The HIT Standards Committee agonized over whether to pursue broad goals, necessarily at a slow pace, or to seek a few achievable improvements in the process right away. In either case, what we have to look forward to is more meetings of committees, longer and more mind-numbing documents, heavier and heavier tests–infrastructure galore.

Meanwhile, the structure facilitating all this bureaucracy is crumbling. Many criticisms of Meaningful Use Stage 2 have been publicly aired–some during the HIT Standards Committee call–and Stage 3 now looks like a faint hope. Some journalists predict a doctor’s revolt. Instead of continuing on a path hated by everybody, including the people laying it out, maybe we need a new approach.

Software developers over the past couple decades have adopted a range of ways to involve the users of software in its design. Sometimes called agile or lean methodologies, these strategies roll out prototypes and even production systems for realistic testing. The strategies call for a whole retooling of the software development process, a change that would not come easily to slow-moving proprietary companies such as those dominating the EHR industry. But how would agile programming look in health care?

Instead of bringing a doctor in from time to time to explain what a clinical workflow looks like or to approve the screens put up by a product, clinicians would be actively designing the screens and the transitions between them as they work. They would discover what needs to be in front of a resident’s eyes as she enters the intensive care ward and what needs to be conveyed to the nurses’ station when an alarm goes off sixty feet away.

Clinicians can ensure that the information transferred is complete and holds value. They would not tolerate, as the products tested by the JAMIA team do, a document that reports a medication without including its dose, timing, and route of administration.

Not being software experts (for the most part), doctors can’t be expected to anticipate all problems, such as changes of data versions. They still need to work closely with standards experts and programmers.

It also should be mentioned that agile methods include rigorous testing, sometimes to the extent that programmers write tests before writing the code they are testing. So the process is by no means lax about programming errors and patient safety.

Finally, modern software teams maintain databases–often open to the users and even the general public–of reported errors. The health care field needs this kind of transparency. Clinicians need to be warned of possible problems with a software module.

What we’re talking about here is a design that creates a product intimately congruent with each site’s needs and workflow. The software is not imported into a clinical environment–much less imposed on one–but grows organically from it, as early developers of the VistA software at the Veterans Administration claimed to have done. Problems with document exchange would be caught immediately during such a process, and the programmers would work out a common format cooperatively–because that’s what the clinicians want them to do.

Social Determinants of Health (#SDOH)

Posted on July 28, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In a recent chat that I think was hosted by HIMSS, they used the hashtag #SDOH. I’ll admit that the hashtag wasn’t familiar to me, so I was glad that they included a link to resources on the HIMSS Future Care website that defined #SDOH as Social Determinants of Health. Had you heard of this hashtag or term before?

I’d never heard of Social Determinants of Health before, but I’d certainly heard of some of the concepts. I think there is a lot to be said about how our social interactions can be used to determine our health. I think the real challenge with it is taking it from a conceptual idea and turn it into a science. Not to mention turning it into a science where technology could be applied.

What I just described is the perfect opportunity for an entrepreneur. Some of the best new companies take something really challenging and make it simple for the end user. I think that’s exactly what will happen with social determinants of health. With the plethora of social signals that are easily available and accessible now, a large mix of entrepreneurs will be able to work on this challenge. That’s really exciting for me.

The real question I have with social determinants of health is whether they’ll just be a consumer based application or whether the healthcare system will embrace these notions as well. My guess is that it will start as a consumer focused application and then as the science of SDOH matures, the rest of the healthcare system will start to accept and use it as well.

Have you seen applications of SDOH? Do you think social signals aren’t very valuable in determining someone’s health? Can they be leveraged reliably? Will we eventually see SDOH in EMR and EHR software?

Hospital CIOs Cutting Back on Non-Essential Projects

Posted on July 10, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @annezieger on Twitter.

Generally speaking, cutting back on IT projects and spending is a tricky thing. In some cases spending can be postponed, but other times, slicing a budget can have serious consequences.

One area  where cutting budgets can cause major problems is in preparing to roll out EMRs, especially cuts to training, which can lead to problems with rollouts, resentment, medical mistakes, system downtime due to mistakes and more.  Also, skimping on training can lead to a domino effect which results in the exit of CEOs and other senior leaders, which has happened several times (that we know of) over the past couple of years.

That being said, sometimes budgetary constraints force CIOs to make cuts anyway, reports FierceHealthIT Increasingly projects other than EMRs are falling in priority.

A recent survey of hospital technology leaders representing 650 hospitals nationwide published by HIMSS underscores this trend. Respondents told HIMSS said that despite increases in IT budgets, they still struggled to complete IT projects due to financial limitations. In fact, 25 percent said that financial survival was their top priority.

What that comes down to, it seems, is that promising initiatives fall by the roadside if they don’t contribute to EMR success.  For example, providers are stepping back from HIE participation because they feel they can’t afford to be involved, according to a HIMSS Analytics survey published last fall.

Instead, hospitals are taking steps to enhance and build on their EMR investment. For example, as FierceHealthIT notes, Partners HealthCare recently chose to pull together all of its EMR efforts under a single vendor.  In the past, Partners had used a combo of homegrown systems and vendor products, but IT leaders there  felt that this arrangement was too expensive to continue, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

This laser focus on EMRs may be necessary at present, as the EMR is arguably the most mission-critical software hospitals have in place at the  moment. The question, as I see it, is whether this will cripple hospitals in the future. Eventually, I’d argue, mobile health will become a priority for hospitals and medical practices, as will some form of  HIE participation, just to name the first two technologies that come to mind. In three to five years, if they don’t fund initiatives in these areas, hospitals may look  up and find that they’re hopelessly behind .

Next Week’s Guest Blogger – Julie Maas from EMR Direct

Posted on June 6, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Next week, it’s going to be a little different around here. Next week, I’m going to be spending the week at Zions National Park as part of a family reunion. We did this a couple years back and unless things have changed, I’ll be stuck completely off the grid with no wifi or even cell coverage (Although, I may slip into town one day to check my email). Should be quite the experience.

I’ve actually done this a few times before and you probably didn’t know it. I just schedule the posts to appear and no one even realized I was gone. In fact, when I’ve done it in the past, I’ve had some of my highest traffic days on the blog. Don’t ask me how that works.

Next week, I decided to do something a little bit different. When I first started blogging, I remember a blogger “turning over the keys” to his blog to another blogger for the week. I always thought that was a kind of cool idea. Usually the person who “drives” the blog for the week enjoys it, the readers get another perspective, and the blog keeps humming while I’m wrestling 4 children and 12 cousins in the wilderness.

While I’m away, I’m handing the keys over to my favorite HIMSS 2014 discovery, Julie Maas. Before HIMSS this year, I’d certainly interacted with Julie a number of times on Twitter, but I’d never really gotten to know her and what she did. Needless to say, once I met her in person and heard her story I was utterly impressed with her and what she’s doing in healthcare IT. Side Lesson: Don’t judge a person solely by their Twitter account or Twitter interactions. There’s usually a lot more to them.

As I consider who I trusted with the keys to this blog, I wondered if Julie would be willing to share her knowledge, expertise and perspective. For those who don’t know Julie (shame on you), she’s been living, eating, breathing and sleeping the Direct Project for the company she started EMR Direct.

I’ve heard really promising things about Direct Project, but have never dug into it like I should have done. So, I’m as excited to read Julie’s series of posts next week as any of you. She’s also going to throw in a little Health Datapalooza commentary as well. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Direct Project after reading Julie’s posts.

I hope you’ll give Julie a warm welcome to the blog next week. If you like this idea, maybe we’ll do it again. If you hate it or Direct Project, then we’ll be back with our usual snark the week after.

Now, what’s the ICD-10 code for internet withdrawal?

Creating Amazing Connections with People

Posted on April 18, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about creating deep personal connections with the people I meet. If you remember my HIMSS post, I talked a lot about trying to do this at the HIMSS conference. It wasn’t necessarily a strategy that I’d thought out, but just a reflection of what I’d found most interesting and valuable from past conferences. There’s something valuable and beautiful about making a personal connection with someone. I think in the end it leads to great business results as well, but that’s really not the point. Life is so much better when you really connect with someone.

This concept was reinforced when I was reading Ed Marx post about taking pictures with Disney princesses. For those who don’t read the post, each Disney Princess would take a picture with him and then look him in the eyes and have a short personal discussion with him that made him feel special. I was especially intrigued by this since yesterday I took my family to Disneyland.

While at Disneyland, my 10 year old son had saved up all his money and had finally decided to buy this sword that lit up. It was his money, so I basically let him to go up with his wallet and his money and figure out how to buy the sword. I figured it was a good learning experience. He got to learn about tax and the 10 dollar sword cost him $12. He handed the cashier a $20 bill and I asked him how much change he should receive. Happily his math skills were in place and he said he should get $8 back. What happened next was a bit surprising.

The cashier said, “That’s right, but what do you think if I give you back the whole $20 and you get the sword for free?” My son was so excited. You’d think he’d won the lottery. You could see the wheels in his head churning as he pondered the fact that he got a sword and still had all his money. I think he was trying to figure out what to buy next. I suggested that when he got home he could blog about the experience (yes, my 10 year old has a blog). The cashiers were excited that he had a blog as well and asked him to write down the address so they could check it out. When they comment on his blog, I think that might get him even more excited than the free sword.

While I wonder if my son will now expect free stuff when he shops (which should get resolved when he doesn’t get free stuff the next few times he shops), this experience no doubt left a big impression on my son. My cousin who was with us messaged her friend that worked at Disney World said that this was part of the Disney “Magical Memories” program. Cashiers could give away so much free stuff. She said they’d also go out to people buying passes to the park and give away free passes. This reminds me of the Zappos Free Pizza experience that I wrote about on Sunday.

One of the big takeaways from the Health IT Marketing and PR Conference was the need to create Human 2 Human (H2H) connections (Note: The videos from the conference should be posted soon). While this is true in marketing, it’s also true throughout all parts of life. Think about how connecting with your coworkers can benefit your work life. This is particularly true if your a healthcare IT leader in your organization. Imagine the benefits to your personal life if you have hundreds of people you’ve connected with more than just the casual “Hi, how are you?”

What’s really amazing is that creating magical experiences with someone doesn’t take much. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost you anything other than a desire to connect, a change in approach, or a little creativity. Although, the most important thing you need is a sincere and heartfelt concern for others. The magic might not happen immediately, but these efforts over time will create surprising results.

Planning a Successful Patient Engagement Strategy

Posted on April 2, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

On social media and at events like HIMSS, we hear a lot of discussion about this new trend called patient engagement. While there are certainly new tools to help an organization engage the patient, I don’t think it’s fair to say that patient engagement is a new strategy. Patient engagement has always been considered a good thing in practices and healthcare organizations.

The challenge is that we’ve never rewarded those who actually did engage the patient. Healthcare reimbursement has actually discouraged patient engagement despite providers natural desire to want to engage the patient. Every doctor I know would love to sit down with a patient for an hour and really engage them in their health. Unfortunately, we don’t pay them to do this.

While I don’t think we’ll see an over night transition to hour long visits with our doctors, the move to value based reimbursement will finally start rewarding providers who engage deeply with their patients.

The next question doctors should ask is where to start when it comes to patient engagement in this changing landscape. This whitepaper on 5 Elements of a Successful Patient Engagement Strategy would be a good place to start. It provides a realistic strategy for your organization to consider.

The whitepaper also has this great quote from Leonard Kish:

“If patient engagement were a drug, it would be the blockbuster drug of the century and malpractice not to use it.”

Those practices that choose to not have a patient engagement strategy are going to fall behind. This won’t be an issue right away, but it will catch up to many practices who don’t see the coming change.

You might be an #HITNerd If…

Posted on March 23, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

You might be an #HITNerd If…

HIPPA and HIMMS make your skin crawl.

Find all our #HITNerd references on: EMR and EHR & EMR and HIPAA and check out the new #HITNerd t-shirts, hat, and phone cases.

NEW: Check out the #HITNerd store to purchase an #HITNerd t-shirt of cell phone case.

Note: Much like Jeff Foxworthy is a redneck. I’m well aware that I’m an #HITNerd.

#HIMSS14 Highlights: Enthusiasm for Patient Engagement

Posted on March 7, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Patient engagement solutions abounded at HIMSS14, though their levels of sophistication varied. Like many other commentators, I felt this was a big jump in interest over last year. It will be interesting to see if this level sustains into 2015, and how the same products will mature come HIMSS15 in Chicago.

The theme of engagement was heard most loudly in several educational sessions I attended. I was happy to pre-register for an Orion Health / ePatient Dave event; and make time at the last minute to attend a live demo of the new Blue Button Connector, and a brief presentation by Regina Holliday, founder of the Walking Gallery.

I believe ePatient Dave (aka Dave deBronkart) has been at this awhile, but the Orion Health lunch and learn I attended was my first opportunity to hear him tell his story live. And what a compelling story it was! It certainly resonated with the audience of about 75, and I couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t up on stage in a “From the Top” session. The theme that ran throughout his presentation and audience questions was the need for online patient communities, and the subsequent need for providers to let their patients know about them. Websites like PatientsLikeMe.com and Sharecare.com were brought up as interesting resources.

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I headed from there to the exhibit hall, where HIMSS had set up a very nice learning gallery, complete with comfy chairs, swivel desktops and a nice presentation area. Lygeia Ricciardi spent a good 20 minutes going through the new Blue Button Connector website, which you can find here: http://bluebuttonconnector.healthit.gov/. While not a true, live demo, she did offer several screenshots, and was very forthcoming about the ONC’s plans and goals for the site. Apparently they see it as almost a marketing tool, similar to the Energy Star label you see on just about every appliance these days. The Blue Button symbol will hopefully come to be recognized as an endorsement of easy access to patient data. She was frank in saying that it’s not a panacea, but will be a powerful tool in the hands of consumers, and developers who choose to take advantage of its open source code and bake it into their own apps.

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It is literally a connector. The new website simply allows patients to connect to third parties that may house their medical records, such as payers, pharmacy, labs, physicians or hospitals, immunization registries and health information exchange portals. Knowing I already have a provider that participates in Blue Button via their athenahealth patient portal, I went through the “Physician or Hospital” steps to see how the Connector worked. I didn’t see my physician listed, so I’ll likely send an email to bluebutton@hhs.gov. The Connector is in beta right now, and Riccardi mentioned they are very interested in gathering as much user feedback as possible during this process, so I encourage you to check it out and drop them a comment or two.

I was back at the Learning Gallery the next afternoon to hear Regina Holliday of the Walking Gallery speak, and she did not disappoint. Like a preacher that just can’t stay in the pulpit, Regina passionately talked about the power patients have when they come together and demand change. It was my first time hearing her speak live and I was not disappointed. It was a powerful sight to see close to 30 Walking Gallery members stand up at the end of her session and show their jackets. Why they were not on a larger stage in front of a capacity audience is beyond me.

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That’s it for my notes from HIMSS. Next up on my conference dance card is the Healthcare IT Marketing and PR Conference, taking place April 7-8 in Las Vegas, and hosted by Healthcarescene.com. I hope to see you there!

Cleveland Clinic, Dell Offer Joint Epic EHR Service

Posted on February 27, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @annezieger on Twitter.

Even when you’re a juggernaut the size of Epic, eventually you’re going to reach the point where your customer base is saturated and you need unique new directions to go. This new deal between Dell and the Cleveland Clinic may do just that for Epic.

This week at HIMSS, the two are announcing an agreement in which the two will offer consulting, installation, configuration and hosting services for Cleveland Clinic’s version of Epic. Under the deal struck between the two parties, customers can choose between a hosted version of the Epic instance and a full install on their site.

Cleveland Clinic execs say that their knowledge of using Epic, which they have for more than three years, will give them special expertise in helping providers adjust to Epic.  The Clinic has been selling Epic to providers  through its MyPractice Healthcare Solutions business.  To date, MyPractice has sold EMRs to more than 400 providers, including physicians, nurse practitioners and midwives within a 50 mile radius of Cleveland.

Working with Dell, the two companies plan to offer the new EMR service nationwide. The Cleveland Clinic will handle the EMR installation for new customers, and Dell provides the technology infrastructure. Epic gets a licensing fee for each of these deals, the customers’ relationship will be with Dell and the Cleveland Clinic.

As Dr. C. Martin Harris, CIO of the Cleveland Clinic, told Modern Healthcare, most medical practices and hospitals have EMRs in place, leaving only a much smaller group of first-time EMR buyers. But, Harris said, that minis still a big number. (And there’s always the practices still looking to switch.)

Turning Dell and the Cleveland Clinic into a sales channel for Epic seems like a pretty smart move. With the help of players who know the smaller physician practice market, it might open up a new opportunity for Epic which it hadn’t much of a shot at before.

#HIMSS14 Highlights: the Snail’s Pace of Interoperability

Posted on February 26, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Ah, HIMSS. The frenetic pace. The ridiculously long exhibit hall. The aching feet. The Google Glass-ers. As I write this, day three for me is in full swing and I’ve finally managed to find some time to reflect on what I’ve seen, which includes a ridiculously long taxi queue at the airport, more pedicabs than I can count, beautiful weather and lots of familiar faces, which is what makes HIMSS so much fun. I’ve heard lots of buzzwords and sales talk, and seen only about an eighth of the exhibit hall, barely scratching the surface of what’s out there on the show floor.

Several common themes stand out based on the sessions and events I’ve been to, and the passions of those I’ve encountered. Whether it’s vendor breakfasts, social networking functions, exhibit elevator pitches or educational sessions, interoperability and engagement are still the buzzwords to beat. This particular HIMSS has given me a different perspective on each, and offered new insight into what’s happening with the Blue Button Connector. I’ll cover each of these in HIMSS Highlights posts over the next several weeks, starting with interoperability.

The industry seems far more realistic this year regarding interoperability – downright frustrated by the slow pace at which such a lofty goal is proceeding. Industry experts Brian Ahier and Shahid Shah perhaps expressed it best during a lively panel discussion at the Surescripts booth:

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Putting vendors’ feet to the fire will certainly initiate a quick and painful reaction, but probably not a sustainable one. True momentum will occur only when providers get singed a bit, too. Panelist comments at a Dell / Intel breakfast on analytics for accountable care brought this into sharper focus for me. The fact that too many disparate EMRs (and thus too many vendors poised to cause inertia) are making it hard for analytics to successfully be adopted and utilized at an enterprise level, highlights a bigger problem related to hindsight and strategy.

From my perspective – that of an industry observer and commentator – it seems many providers felt compelled to purchase EMRs because the federal government offered them money to do so, and hopefully just as many were optimistic about the role technology would play in positively affecting patient outcomes. Vendors saw a great business opportunity and moved quickly to develop systems that met Meaningful Use criteria (not necessarily going for best-fit as related to workflow needs and usability). Neither group truly knew what they were in store for, especially regarding longer term plans for health information exchange.

Providers now find themselves wanting to move forward with health information exchange and greater interoperability, but slowed down by the very IT systems they were so insistent on purchasing just a few years ago. Vendors (some more than others) are hesitant to crack open their products to allow data to truly flow from one system to another, and who can blame them? The EMR market, in particular, is poised to shrink, which begs the question, who will survive? What companies will be around at HIMSS 15 and 16? Those who keep their systems siloed, like Epic? Or those who are trying to break down the silos, such as Common Well Alliance members like athenahealth and Greenway?

It makes me wonder if providers wouldn’t have been better served with just had a handful of EMRs to choose from around the time of HITECH, all guaranteed to evolve as needed and play nicely with each other in the interest of health information exchange. Too many options have caused too many barriers. That’s not just my opinion, by the way. I’m willing to bet that a sizeable chunk of the 37,537 HIMSS 14 attendees would agree with me.

Do you disagree? Are providers (and patients) better served by more IT options than less? Let me know your thoughts, and impressions of interoperability advancement at HIMSS, in the comments below.