The same week the stars assemble for the Oscars, there’s a similar gathering of luminaries in the healthcare technology (HIT) sector.
HIMSS, the largest trade association in the world for HIT professionals, is now the 5th largest trade show in America, with over 45,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors. There’s already a waiting list to exhibit at next year’s event — and this year’s just wrapped up.
Having been to hundreds of technology conferences over the years, ranging from the legendary COMDEX to the now trendy Consumer Electronics Show, I find something very different about the energy at HIMSS.
Part of it is because the sector is in hyper-growth mode as the definition of healthcare for the consumer-patient transforms from office visits to e-visits. The other reason is that most of the products are in some way designed to save people’s lives.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no shortage of vendors wanting to make huge profits from doing this. Nonetheless, there’s an underlying humanitarian aspect to the products and services on display here, as compared to showing off how automation will increase profits in a cornflake production facility, for instance.
The other factor that makes healthcare technology different is that virtually every human has a relationship to some aspect of health, whether passive or active. It is one of the few global universals across the 7.5 billion inhabitants of the planet.
In that regard, one of the buzzwords that permeated HIMSS this year was population health. But even a term that seems so straightforward can have multiple meanings. These range from eradicating contagious diseases across large populations to gathering data for predictive analysis as it relates to more reliable outcomes for patient care.
The latter definition ties in with another key theme of the show, value-based care. One of the reasons HIMSS is much more “emotional” than other tech conferences is that this industry has no shortage of governmental regulation.
This year, what has been referred to as the “dystopia” created by the Trump election and the uncertainty of Obamacare became a major conference theme. The demand to show greater accountability for healthcare’s increasing costs has increased dramatically with the new pressures to repeal and replace.
This requires vendors in the payer or revenue cycle to be extremely agile in their offerings since this is perhaps the most volatile sub-segment given its proximity to shifts in government regulation and reimbursements.
The technology for precision medicine is another major sector that trended at HIMSS17. Unlike many technology initiatives that are more buzzword than reality, precision medicine could have a profound effect on the future of healthcare.
The underlying concept is rooted in health care that is individually tailored based on a person’s genes, lifestyle and environment. Needless to say, the amount of data that needs to be analyzed to provide this laser-focused care at the individual level is daunting.
As with at many technology conferences, the more mundane cloud was ubiquitous across the conference and exhibition floor. Speakers and vendors were under pressure to present thought-provoking use cases that added emotion to the cloud. (As a healthcare marketing wonk, I have to say that this Microsoft video created one of the strongest emotional connections between seemingly mainstream cloud technology and amazing patient outcomes that I’ve ever seen.)
The nexus of cloud with connected health, telemedicine and telehealth was perhaps the most prominent trend, touching every device and platform in the show and conference session. The proliferation of sophisticated devices was only surpassed by the fact that the everyday smartphone is now a medical device subject to regulation. It was also clear that the next new thing will be voice- enabled health technology, as products like Amazon’s Alexa take orders from both patients and physicians.
Even more than in most industries, cybersecurity in the Internet of Things environment is central to healthcare. Hacking takes on a whole new dimension when it involves embedded medical devices such as pacemakers and diabetes pumps. Added to this is the fact that medical records reportedly sell for a factor of 10X on the black market. The complexity increases when one considers the need for secure interoperability across disparate electronic health record (EHR) systems.