More from HIMSS 2017: The Physician Executive View

Craig Joseph, MD
By: Craig Joseph, MD
Date: March 01, 2017

From the perspective of physician leaders, the HIMSS 2017 meeting was overwhelming (as always!) There are always more sessions to attend and more vendors with whom to visit than is humanly possible, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun trying.

Epic had two big announcements, at least from my point-of-view:

  • They are finally bringing the App Orchard live. While talked about since 2015, it will soon be possible for third-party application developers to ensure their products can play nicely with Epic’s electronic health record (EHR) software. In the past, often app developers had to convince an Epic customer to work with them to gain access to the complicated specifications needed to talk with Epic. Now, developers will be able to make sure their software works, and can then look for the willing customers. This is a big move for Epic, and it’s a move in the right direction!
  • Judy Faulkner, Epic’s founder and CEO, announced that the company will sell two additional versions of their ubiquitous EHR software, targeted at smaller hospital and healthcare systems. Sonnet (continuing Epic’s penchant for naming software after poetry forms) will have features and functionality aimed at institutions such as critical access hospitals and small ambulatory clinics. Further, there will be an additional version somewhere between Sonnet and the full Epic suite. Epic attempted to do this over a decade ago, and it was met with marginal success. Epic has obviously learned some lessons and thinks now is the time to go after these smaller organizations. It will be interesting to see how they market and sell at this level given that there won’t be huge IT shops internal to these customers to support the software.

At the AMDIS (Association of Medical Directors of Information Services) sessions held on the day before the official HIMSS kickoff, CMOs and CMIOs focused on some hot-button issues:

  • You can’t attend a healthcare IT (HIT) conference without spending time talking about cybersecurity. In the past, chief information security officers (CISOs) were the only ones interested in learning about phishing, social engineering, and ransomware. Nowadays, physician leaders are being brought into the cybersecurity fold so that they can understand how technology countermeasures are being deployed in clinical systems, and further how all of this affects the clinical experience.
  • Precision medicine is also becoming a required topic at such meetings. The concept of tailoring recommendations and therapy to a specific patient based on their genetic background or tumor makeup seems like a non-starter without sophisticated EHRs. Only via HIT can we present the clinician the data and knowledge that they need, when they need it, in a format through which they can consume it. Precision medicine will only become more important as our knowledgebase expands.
  • The role of interoperability in the care of the patient is hard to overstate. Even though we’ve been talking about exchanging patient data for decades, and we’ve been doing it in Epic EHRs for years now, we’ve just nicked the surface. Doctors that I speak with sometimes feel overwhelmed with patient data from outside their institution, let alone trying to understand what’s happened to complicated and very sick people inside their hospital. Much work remains, both on the technology side and the clinical side, as we endeavor to exchange meaningful information that will impact the patient’s care.

In the exhibit hall, the huge Epic, Cerner and Allscripts booths were omnipresent. But what caught my eye were the tiny booths of startup IT shops trying to scoop up the crumbs that the mammoth EHR vendors haven’t yet – or can’t – deal with. Unlike in past years, I get the feeling that software developers no longer underestimate the difficulty that is healthcare. I recall Google showing up at HIMSS ten years ago (or so), and many believing that the end was near for the giant vendors. Of course, we know how that turned out. At this conference and on this exhibit hall floor, I saw developers who understand the long sales cycles that hospitals have. In greater numbers, app developers comprehend physician and nursing workflows, and how deviating from those established workflows can be the death knell of a software company. They seem ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work with their users to help improve the care of the patient or the patient’s experience. This made me happy, despite the throbbing of my feet!

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