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HIMSS19 in a Word: “Interoperability”

HIMSS19 in a Word: “Interoperability”

What an exciting, promising whirlwind #HIMSS19 has been. This conference that distills all of the industry’s innovation and complexity is a crystal ball; when you look around the room, you are seeing, hearing, and experiencing the future of healthcare.

Out of everything that I took in, one observation stood out in particular. Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), spoke this year as well as last. In 2018, she remarked that using fax machines for healthcare transactions should be phased out. This year, she called for a wholesale push for interoperability that would give payers and providers instant, accurate, and complete access to patients’ electronic health records. This patient-centered initiative is often referred to as the “Blue Button” app, and there are 1,500 developers currently working on it. This digital revolution would create health records at birth that include every appointment, test, diagnosis, and data from the Internet of Healthcare Things devices into a record, which could be blockchain-enabled to ensure accuracy and security.  

If you ask me, that’s like graduating from a foot-powered Flintstone’s car to a Lamborghini over the course of one year. How did we make such a leap from literally cutting the cable on fax machines to a wholesale, easy-to-use, innovative concept?

The question is, what is leading that swift progress? The answer: healthcare consumerism.

We’ve explored healthcare consumerism before, but what it boils down to is listening to patient-consumers and following their lead, needs, and desires rather than purely offering instruction. This concept has existed for a while but has skyrocketed recently because of millennials. The first generation of “digital natives” is making more and more healthcare decisions, and doing so with $3.4 trillion in buying power. In fact, as soon as next year, they’re slated to make the majority of healthcare decisions.

Just look at the language Verma used: “The idea the patient data belongs to providers or payers is an epic misunderstanding. Patient data belongs to patients. … Information blocking is a thing of the past.” She elaborated that the app would be transferable from doctor to doctor and plan to plan, almost like transferring your contacts when you upgrade your iPhone.

What does this mean for the industry? National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Don Rucker, MD, said to Modern Healthcare: “I think this will — combined with the modern app economy and the tools that are available, the bandwidth that’s available — materially change the way care is delivered and the way patients are empowered. … This is a way to get patients back into the game.”

That’s the goal. Everything we do — from doctors to developers — comes back to benefitting patients. Interoperability, which dominated the discussions at HIMSS,  is one route to achieving that ambitious, yet necessary, goal.

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