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Finding Few Answers at HIMSS’13

by John Moore | March 13, 2013

Last week was yet another HIMSS, this time in the Big Easy – one of my favorite cities, despite the unfortunate decay occurring on Bourbon St. As with the many HIMSS I have attended before, this is the seminal event of the year where one has the opportunity to reconnect with friends, acquitances and countless others all in the hope of gaining a pulse on the healthcare IT (HIT) industry.

Having been barraged with countless invites in advance of the show to meet with this or that vendor, I winnowed down the number of meetings to a select few and even then, had far more on my plate then I could reasonably consume over the three plus days that I was there. And of course, there were the countless press releases I received during the week of HIMSS, nearly all of them barely worth the digital type and bandwidth used to create and distribute.

So easy to get lost in all this noise. I just can’t fathom how a healthcare executive is suppose to wade through it on their own, let alone the staff that reports up into them.

This year’s HIMSS pilgrimage was to seek knowledge within four core areas:

  1. State of innovation in HIT,
  2. Greater understanding on the state of analytics adoption,
  3. Market maturity with regards to population health management and
  4. Is the industry finally taking true patient engagement seriously?

Following are findings and musings on these four.

Innovation – Where is it?
For all the talk of innovation in this sector, it is astonishing just how little there truly is. I searched high and low for real innovation and came up dry. Even went to the Venture Fair on Sunday to see what a number of young companies are bringing to market and found little to capture my imagination. Either this is a sign that I have been in this market too long or maybe a sign of just how challenging this market can be for those who wish to truly be innovative, to be disruptive. Walking the halls of HIMSS, one certainly gets the feeling that this is a show that is not about leveraging HIT for disruptive purposes, but to maintain the status quo.

One of the few glimmers of hope for future innovation may come from an unlikely source; the consortium of five EHR vendors that have committed to the CommonWell Health Alliance. While one must be cautious in throwing one’s support behind such an initiative, I threw caution to the wind in a brief interview after the announcement.

Why the enthusiasm?

If CommonWell succeeds in its mission to create an information sharing platform across these five vendors – and others should they join – we’ll finally, as an industry, move beyond competing on data silos ultimately providing a higher level of functionality to the end user. On top of this sharing platform, we may then begin to see true innovation occur – innovation that taps the data that flows across the CommonWell network. Of course this is all dependent on just how “open” CommonWell will be and that is something we will not know for at least a year. – Yes, healthcare moves slow.

Analytics – Why is it?
The market for healthcare analytics has been hyped beyond imagination but beyond the hype is what appears to be a complete lack of why this industry is even pursuing analytics. There appears to be very little underlying justifications as to why a healthcare organization should be doing analytics in the first place.

Time and again, in one discussion after another, we found a very immature buyers’ market for analytics solutions. Most buyers cannot answer, with any degree of specificity, the simple questions: Why do we want an analytics solution? – What is the business case? And its not just the buyers as many vendors complained of the horrible RFPs that they are receiving which were drafted by some big name consulting firms. One vendor told us point-blank:

“We are no longer responding to RFPs as they are such garbage and a waste of time. If we can’t connect at the most senior strategic level of the organization, then we know that they do not have the maturity of thought to begin the conversation, let alone the journey.”

As most of you already know, Cora is working on the report: Analytics for Population Risk Management that will be released in April. It is our goal to help clear the air and educate this market and if anyone can do it, it is Cora.

Population Health – What is it?
And to think, I though analytics was an over-hyped market. Analytics has nothing on the next big market buzzword, population health management (PHM). Much like the fable of the blind men and the elephant, population health is whatever you wish to make of it or whatever part of the healthcare elephant you happen to be attached to.

What a mess. Despite all the hype on PHM, which comes under many guises including Accountable Care Solutions, Systems or Suite, I did not come across a single vendor that had a complete solution suite. Even those vendors that have significant pieces of a PHM solution, still have not knitted their portfolio together to be a seamless offering. Buyers of such solutions will be spending a lot of money on services to stich these things together for the next 2-3 years.

In the second half of the year, Chilmark Research intends to devote a significant amount of resources to fully flesh-out what is meant by PHM, what are the critical components to enable such and where one might go to find them. Stay tuned.

Patient Engagement – How is it?
Anyone who has followed Chilmark Research and my ramblings for more than a couple of years knows that I have a soft spot for patient engagement. It was within this broad category that I got my start with the publication of the iPHR Market Trends Report in 2008. While that market has not developed sufficiently to support a full-time analyst, it is still an area we track closely and in addition to myself, both Cora and Naveen keep tabs on this market. Naveen will give some of his HIMSS impressions next week wherein he’ll focus specifically on patient engagement.

Waiting with bated breath for this market to take off is fraught with futility. Despite the quite vocal efforts of ONC to push patient engagement to the forefront, I still see most programs at healthcare institutions being funded by marketing departments. It is not about engagement, its about loyalty. Even HIMSS seems to recognize this as they had a number of screens scattered throughout the convention center that flashed four screens: 1) Healthy Patient, 2) Connected Patient, 3) Informed Patient, 4) Stronger Patient which left me wondering…

Where is the engaged patient?

Without engagement folks we are dead in the water for only an engaged patient will take the necessary steps to actively managed their health.

Wrap-up
HIMSS is what it is, a large conference that gathers just about everyone interested in the HIT market in one place. But in such a gathering, a significant amount of noise is created leaving one wondering: Does this conference provide real enlightenment and clarity to the market and the solutions therein, or does it just create greater confusion?

Reflecting on the conference and reviewing my notes for this post I find it is some of both, with a weighting towards noise and confusion. In the coming months, as we release our reports on HIEs, Analytics and later this year, those on population health and patient engagement, we intend to provide the clarity that all stakeholders need to have informed discussions and ultimately make informed decisions. That in a nutshell is the purpose of Chilmark and what guides us our research agenda.

 

Stay up to the minute.

“As biometric data becomes cheaper and easier to collect through smart sensors, devices, and mobile apps, expect to see more innovations in consumer health.”

-Alicia Vergaras