Healthcare Technology Featured Article

May 04, 2018

10 Takeaways From HIMSS18

Another annual meeting of the Healthcare and Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) is in the books. While some people still think it’s too big and overwhelming, it remains — without a doubt — the best place to catch up with clients and gain insights on market innovation.    

There are plenty of reports on various aspects of HIMSS18. Here are insights on the top trends my team and I observed from HIMSS18:

1.  Accessibility and control of patient data. Accessibility and control of patient data have been on the radar for several years, but they took center stage at HIMSS18. There were many vendor offerings and a lot of buzz about Apple’s new Health application (app). The Health app enables patients to aggregate much of their personal health information from various providers and see it on their iPhones. This new kind of personal health record (PHR) is available anytime, anywhere. Is this a game changer? It may be too soon to tell as pilot testing is under way; however, it is an example of disruptive technologies we will see more of in 2018. Click here for our take on Apple’s Health app.    

Also of note was the rollout of three government-sponsored solutions to empower patients through new ways to access to their health data. Two were announced in a keynote by Seema Verma, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). One is the government-wide initiative called MyHealthEData, which is spearheaded by the White House Office of American Innovation. It aims to “empower patients by giving them control of their health care data and allowing it to follow them through their health care journey.” MyHealthEData will enable patients to get an electronic copy of their entire health record, which can then be shared among providers, regardless of site and geographic location. The second new product is called Blue Button 2.0, which is a "developer-friendly, standards-based [application programming interface].” Administrator Verma touted it as a new and secure way for Medicare beneficiaries to access and share their personal health data in a universal digital format. There were high hopes for the original Blue Button, which was an early PHR that never seemed to gain much traction. 

With much less fanfare, the Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled the beta version of its Lighthouse Lab initiative. This initiative enables health IT developers to leverage open application programming interfaces (APIs) and Health Level 7's (HL7) FHIR standard (see below) to expand veterans’ health data access.

It remains to be seen how these three government solutions complement each other and if they will have legs.

 2.  Artificial intelligence (AI). Every HIMSS meeting seems to have a buzzword and AI is the one for 2018. Maybe it’s because of the focus on AI to improve the data analytics needed for the transition to value-based care. Maybe it’s because there were a ton of AI vendors in the exhibit hall, including IBM (which was demonstrating the many new advances from Watson Health). Maybe it’s because AI is among the Trump administration’s major health IT priorities, as enunciated in Jared Kushner’s keynote. Maybe it’s because of the big announcement that Epic is joining forces with Nuance AI to integrate the latter’s AI-powered virtual assistants — which have conversational functionality — into the electronic health record (EHR). The goal is to enhance how physicians and care teams capture and retrieve patient information. All of the new tools will run on both iOS and Android mobile devices. This strikes us as the kind of innovation that we are sure to hear more about this year.

3.  Block chain. Block chain — a kind of secure electronic ledger — debuted last year at HIMSS as one of health care’s shiniest new objects. Although some people think it is overhyped, many stakeholders jumped on the bandwagon nonetheless. We are seeing use cases emerge. Many were showcased at HIMSS 2018, especially in the areas of supply chain management, security and privacy. We expect block chain to be of particular interest to pharmaceutical manufacturers for patient safety, pharmacovigilance, precision medicine and clinical trial recruitment.

4. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). FHIR is one of the latest in the HL7 family of standards. It rapidly is underpinning the accelerating movement toward open, standards-based APIs. Increased adoption of FHIR-based APIs is expected this year as EHR vendors and pharmaceutical companies consider how to use innovative APIs to enable communication with patients and partners. FHIR also is becoming key to Internet-based information exchange networks and is being considered for the transport of data for specialty pharmacy enrollment, which is part of efforts to automate specialty pharmacy. It is in the background of Apple’s new patient data on the iPhone initiative, described above. It also underpins the Da Vinci project, which is described below. In short, FHIR rapidly is becoming a standard of choice for health IT applications.

5. Government alphabet soup. Every year, stakeholders gather at HIMSS to ponder how to address various healthIT initiatives from government agencies, which usually are referred to by their acronyms. Two seemed to be on everyone’s lips at HIMSS 2018. The first is the meaningful use’s (MU) EHR Incentive Program, which CMS promises to revamp in a major way. In her keynote, CMS Administrator Varma said this will be a “complete overhaul” of the MU program for hospitals and the Advancing Care Information performance category of the Quality Payment Program.  This got the thumbs up from such stakeholders as HIMSS and the American Hospital Association, which were cautiously optimistic about the possibility of meaningful changes to the MU program.

The second is the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA), which is an outgrowth of 21st Century Cures Act requirements. TEFCA is taking an expansive look at interoperability and improving data exchange by health information networks (HINs). Implementation and high-level oversight are being done by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). The agency issued draft implementation guidance in January containing policies, procedures and technical standards the government views as an onramp to interoperability. This is expected to bridge the gap between providers’ and patients’ information systems and enable interoperability across disparate HINs. The feeling among stakeholders is that TEFCA tries to do too much, too soon. Stay tuned to see how this unfolds. (Click here for our analysis of TEFCA).

6.  Improving prescription decision making and price transparency. One HIMSS takeaway is a new emphasis on standards use cases to solve specific problems. While FHIR was everywhere as a problem-solver, electronic prior authorization (ePA) and the real-time benefit check (RTBC) were showcased as ways of addressing two long-standing prescribing problems, respectively: improving the prescription decision-making process for medications needing preapprovals and providing better price transparency at the point of prescribing. Both Surescripts and CoverMyMeds exhibited their new solutions for ePA and RTBC. Surescripts noted that its RTBC solution was the result of a collaboration with Epic, Allscripts, Cerner, GE Healthcare, Practice Fusion and Aprima, whose EHRs represent 53% of the US physician base. In pilot tests, participants — which included CVS and Express Scripts — generated 3.75 million transactions in one year and provided patient-specific prescription benefit price data to prescribers in real time. Surescripts’ RTBC solution is being integrated by Cerner into its EHR — a development announced just before HIMSS.

7. Interoperability. Interoperability is another concept that was put front and center at HIMSS18, especially from the government side. Interoperability will be top priority for the Trump administration, according to keynote speeches by Jared Kushner and Seema Varma. Kushner noted that interoperability is key to the future of patient-centered health care and the time is now to make that happen. Efforts to address interoperability also were underscored by Donald Rucker, head of the ONC, who said ONC will focus on interoperability and related provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, including information blocking, increased use of APIs and TEFCA (described above). ONC is still relevant, especially in the area of interoperability. It dodged a bullet in the newly passed Omnibus budget bill and will maintain its current funding level at least through September. This should give the agency some breathing room to keep fully focused on its various interoperability initiatives. That said, HIMSS 2018 also demonstrated that there is private-sector demand to build to interoperability. There are more and larger data sets and a burgeoning array of tools, such as FHIR and block chain, to connect them. Interoperability still is very fragmented, but we are making progress.                   

8.  Multistakeholder efforts. HIMSS 2018 was teeming with multistakeholder groups, all of which aim to facilitate data exchange in one way or another. There were data exchange networks, including the Commonwell Alliance and Sequoia Project. There was the Argonaut Project, a private-sector initiative to expand information sharing among EHRs and other health IT using FHIR. On the consumer side, there was the multisector collaborative, the CARIN Alliance, which is working to advance consumer-directed exchange of health information. Despite their differing makeup and foci, the groups had one thing in common: convening and problem solving on their own, as opposed to letting the government initiate and oversee the initiative.   

9.  Population health. Population health continues to be a goal in need of solutions and wider user acceptance. Maybe 2018 is the year. The Trump administration clearly is advocating population health, so its efforts could help move the needle in terms of technology and use. Many HIMSS presenters linked new interoperability efforts with population health, such as MyHealthEData. A number of exhibitors showcased practical solutions that would address related issues with existing systems. An example is a presentation by UMass Memorial Healthcare. It centered on UMass development of improvement efforts in the hospital and primary care practices through the creation of practice improvement facilitators, who work with practice staff to implement population health across the 32 EHRs in use in the affiliated practices. They support practice efforts to educate and implement programs to identify patients and have appropriate interventions, especially among patients who are “rising risk” on their way to being the future sickest patients.

10. Value-based care. Health care’s transition to value-based care was another major theme of HIMSS 2018. It was clear from presentations and new vendor offerings and strategic partnerships that value- based care is beginning to gain more momentum. That is because data sets are more easily accessible and the tools to facilitate their availability and analysis are becoming more sophisticated.  

Along those lines, HIMSS 2018 featured presentations on the Da Vinci project. This new private-sector initiative is developing a rapid multistakeholder process using HL7’s FHIR standard for addressing value-based care use cases between payers and providers. The project will: 1) identify specific value-based care use cases that are amenable to national solutions using FHIR-based APIs; 2) rapidly develop implementation guides and reference implementations; and 3) field test those materials to validate readiness and efficacy. The Da Vinci project is being overseen by a multistakeholder group consisting of HL7, payers, providers, health IT vendors, and key government agencies.

It will be interesting to see how much progress the industry makes in these areas before the next HIMSS conference in Orlando!

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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