I recently attended the New England HIMSS Spring Conference, held at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. (home of the Super Bowl LI Champion New England Patriots – yeah!) The event focused on some of the most pressing challenges in healthcare today. That includes the shift to value-based care, the complexity of healthcare, and patient engagement.

Tweet: 3 takeaways from the New England HIMSS Spring Conference

What’s clear is that there is no shortage of work to do in healthcare IT in order to support organizational drivers such as improved outcomes and reduced costs. I walked away from the conference with a number of ideas and insights, and here, winnowed it down to my top 3 takeaways.

1. How do you make healthcare simpler?

Many people would answer the above question by saying, “You can’t.” And it certainly feels that way much of the time. During her presentation, “Health Technology Simplification: A Global Initiative,” Deborah Theobald, co-founder of Vecna Technologies, showed a graphic that shows just how complex healthcare is.

Theobald urged attendees to flip around the traditional way of thinking about data. Instead of collecting all data and then figuring out what to do with it, she suggested deciding what you are going to do with the data, and then only collect the data that maps to those goals. That may be easier said than done, though, as healthcare organizations could spend far too much time planning without seeing any real results. In addition, it might not always be apparent what use some data is until much later.

Other data complexities discussed during the conference had to do with the number of data sources, especially in the age of healthcare mergers and acquisitions. When one hospital acquires another hospital (or many hospitals), they often have different systems in place. For example, two speakers at the event talked about how their health systems have more than 40 different EHRs! While one of the organizations is currently standardizing on an EHR, the other is whittling its systems down to a “more manageable” 7 EHRs.

Of course, even with cutting down the number of data sources, there are still issues with data integration and standardizing on measures across departments and individual hospitals. Too often, even in newly created health systems, organizations keep their data in silos because their IT departments are juggling multiple priorities. They won’t focus on integrating these data sources if there is not a compelling ROI. However, to truly make gains in improving outcomes and reducing the cost of healthcare, we at Dimensional Insight believe that hospitals and health systems will need to figure out ways to standardize data across these sources, as that will enable true insights.

2. Steps to true population health

Population health is the buzzword du jour, as I noted in my February blog post on the national HIMSS17 conference. UMass Memorial Healthcare’s Tom Scornavacca, senior medical director, and Renee Broadbent, AVP, population HIT & strategy, discussed how their organization is making progress on the population health front.

Scornavacca discussed the importance of having support from senior-level teams, as well as having executives involved in population health who still see patients. When executives are still on the front lines, they better understand the challenges that medical professionals face, and will better understand how to adequately address them. In addition, he talked about how population health is currently not discussed in medical school and residency programs, and that it should be part of training from the very beginning.

Broadbent then went on to talk about the importance of a good foundation built on data infrastructure and interoperability between systems. She also talked about where her organization is hoping to move in population health. As an example, she said there are currently many patients in their 40’s and 50’s who are not currently sick, but may have markers for illnesses. How do you outreach to them now and educate them to hopefully prevent illness down the road?

3. Innovation and the future of healthcare technology

Finally, several presentations focused on innovation and the future of healthcare IT. Most notably, John Brownstein, chief innovation officer of Boston Children’s Hospital, presented some of the applications his organization is developing. He talked about how social media can provide early detection of disease. Some examples include Twitter and Instagram posts mentioning illness to Open Table cancellations. Social media can also be used to detect adverse reactions to drugs. This can be valuable to pharmaceutical companies or the FDA. It can also track public sentiment towards vaccines in different areas of the world.

Part of the difficulty in gathering data through these sources is that people often don’t clearly spell out their symptoms. In addition, they frequently make spelling mistakes or have different variations in language. Experts are using machine learning technology to make sense of this unstructured data.

In addition, John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess System, spoke to the group via video on the prospects for health IT under the Trump administration. Halamka believes the private sector will thrive and innovate in a climate of lower taxes and less regulation. He talked about a new era of innovation with healthcare apps. As an example, he demonstrated how BIDMC has connected Amazon Echo (Alexa) to its EHR.

Finally, a lot of innovation is happening in the arena of patient engagement. Hospitals are recognizing that in the new value-based care world, patient-centered experiences are ever-more critical. Seth Bokser, chief medical officer of Oneview Healthcare, talked about how costs are constant, but revenue is going down under value-based care. The only way to bend the revenue curve is by increasing market share – thus, the need to focus on patients. He discussed new innovations in digital health therapeutics and virtual reality to assist in pain management. He also discussed hospital efforts to personalize the patient experience.

The bottom line

While the shift to new payment models and new demands on hospitals brings new challenges, its also brings new opportunities for innovation. In order to truly innovate, hospitals and health systems need a strong data foundation. They also need the ability to tie together disparate sources of information to gain meaningful insights. This is where our innovation at Dimensional Insight comes into play with our new Measure Factory. That’s something you’ll be hearing a lot about from us in the weeks and months ahead, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

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Kathy Sucich
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