HIMSS’19: What to Expect, What I Hope to Find

Next week, most of the healthcare IT industry will descend on Orlando to attend HIMSS’19. This is my 12th year attending HIMSS, an event for me that is more about networking and confirming assumptions than actually learning anything new.

For years now, HIMSS and the multitude of vendors exhibiting there have feasted at the trough of federal largesse ($35B plus), via the HITECH Act passed in 2008 to foster adoption of EHRs. The HITECH Act was successful, driving EHR adoption from the low teens to over 90% today. Though some may question the value of that investment, I personally believe that over time (another 7-10 years) we will reap benefits that far exceed that initial investment.

However, now that we’ve reached that level of adoption, the market has plateaued. Sure, there were hopes of a robust EHR replacement market, but that never materialized. Then there was the hope for huge gains (profits) to be made on the shift from volume to value through the sale of PHM solution suites. That didn’t pan out too well either as the fate of the ACA was left in the lurch with a change in administrations. Also, quite frankly, PHM is a complex sell, requiring significant change management that few healthcare organizations were ready to commit to and few vendors had the services to support.

The provider health IT market is going through a significant transition and it’s not going to be pretty. Clearly, the party is over and one has to wonder: Why does HIMSS continue to exist? Why are all these vendors here? Are we on the Titanic, seemingly blind to the economic icebergs that surround us?

But I digress.

What is important is that the EHR has become the central nervous system to provider organizations. Secondly, this market will continue to consolidate rapidly with few independent EHRs surviving the shakeout. Those left standing will attempt a number of different strategies to drive continued growth in a plateauing market.

  • Acquire other EHR vendors to gain market share (Allscripts, Cerner, CPSI, Harris)
  • All major EHR vendors are pursuing an extension strategy moving from EHR to supporting PHM, RCM, analytics, etc, though their capabilities in these adjacent areas vary wildly.
  • Expansion into new markets. Epic is looking to dentistry and insurance. Allscripts, life sciences and payers with Veradigm. Cerner, government and payers. All large acute/ambulatory EHR vendors are actively pursuing overseas markets, with Meditech particularly strong in Canada.

It remains to be seen how successful these strategies will be but rest assured, even if successful, no EHR vendor is completely safe from a future acquisition.

This sets the stage for what to expect at HIMSS’19:

  • All vendors will continue to tout the momentum they have in the market as if this market will remain forever on a hockey stick trajectory, but very few can back it up.
  • AI/ML will be just as pervasive this year as last, permeating all aspects of health IT, but likely very little demonstrable proof of scale.
  • A multitude of disease-specific, chronic management solutions but no vendor with a true portfolio of best-in-class solutions on a single platform. Resmed appears close to enabling such a platform for respiratory ailments.
  • More FHIR use cases.
  • Plenty of patient-centric this, consumer-centric that but all a head fake as it is really about capturing patient revenue via online bill pay and filling vacant appointment slots.

And what I hope to find at HIMSS’19:

  • An AI/ML company that has truly scaled its solution across an enterprise in at least two customer deployments.
  • Clear metrics from EHR vendors on the level of adoption and use of FHIR across their client base.
  • An engagement solution that is looking beyond the near-term volume/revenue needs of a healthcare organization to how to truly engage patients/consumers in their health e.g. Aetna/Apple’s Attain app.
  • How vendors are assisting their customers in achieving demonstrable, defendable ROI from their solutions. Health Catalyst stands out here.

May your trip to HIMSS’19 be a success, however you define it. And if you see us in the halls, do not hesitate to stop and say hello – maybe we’ll have a few quick on-the-fly notes to share.

Stay up to the minute.

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