“Meaningful use” dominates discussions at HIMSS
HIMSS attendees urged to focus on patient care
Though some tried to change the subject, “meaningful use” of health information technology—and the billions of dollars in federal stimulus-law subsidies that are attached to that term—dominated discussions at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society annual conference and exhibition March 1-4 in Atlanta.
Original estimates of the amount of money the federal government would dish out to help subsidize healthcare provider investments in IT ranged between $14.1 billion and $27.3 billion. However, during a conference presentation, John Halamka, a physician who is chief information officer at 621-bed Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, and Harvard Medical School, said the current best thinking was that the government would be paying between $22 billion and $23 billion to those who met its meaningful-use requirements for health IT subsidies.
HIMSS Chairman Barry Chaiken kicked off the conference by trying to shift the focus from money to patient care. He noted how IT professionals need to create demand for their products by developing systems and applications that providers want to use, rather than concentrate on something that might meet the requirements for a federal subsidy.
“We cannot rely on incentive programs or executive orders,” Chaiken said. “We must create electronic systems so appealing that they make physicians want to leave their paper medical records behind.”
This sentiment was echoed by Eric Saff, senior vice president and CIO of three-hospital John Muir Health, Walnut Creek, Calif.
“We kind of get caught up in the money, but the reason we’re doing this is to be more efficient and to improve patient care—and it’s going to,” Saff said. “I’m really excited by it.”
Total attendance was pegged at 27,777, a bit more than the final official attendance figure of 27,540 for the 2009 conference in Chicago. There were 924 companies on the exhibit floors, up from last year’s total of 907.
There were some noticeable and significant absences, such as electronic health records giant Cerner Corp., but Cerner managed to have a presence without a booth by participating in the conference’s “interoperability showcase” and co-sponsoring a “CIO Night” with IBM Corp. at the Atlanta Hard Rock Cafe.
According to HIMSS, there were more vendors, but they brought fewer people with them. The lack of sales and marketing staff, however, was offset by a 7% increase in the number of healthcare “professionals.”
HIMSS also released figures stating that nearly a third of all registrants were from healthcare provider organizations. About 10% of registrants were CIOs, while another 10% were CEOs. Almost 8% of attendees were from outside the U.S.
Keynote speeches were given by a number of industry, government and general interest speakers including Sprint Nextel Corp. CEO Dan Hesse, CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, and “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, who closed the conference.
Easily the most anticipated, however, was David Blumenthal, the national coordinator for health information technology, who just the day before his keynote speech released long-awaited details of how EHR systems would be certified to meet meaningful-use requirements.
David Brailer, who served as the nation’s first national coordinator after President George W. Bush created the position, crisscrossed the country promoting his plan and vision. In comparison, Blumenthal—who founded the Institute for Health Policy at 907-bed Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston—has not been much of a public figure.
He used his appearance at HIMSS to further introduce himself and to rally the troops behind the Obama administration’s ambitious health IT plan.
“I’m optimistic,” Blumenthal said, in summing up. “I think the wind is at our back in so, so many ways.”
Blumenthal somewhat echoed Chaiken’s previous keynote by noting that the focus should be on improving patient care through the use of IT and not on just getting IT systems installed.
“As long as we keep the patient and their needs and desires as our North Star, as our guiding light, we will not go astray with health information technology,” he said.
Though not a keynote speaker, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, chairman of the National Governors Association and co-chair of its State Alliance for e-Health, presented the states’ point of view. In contrast to Washington squabbling, Douglas said states are forced to confront problems and take action out of necessity.
“Unlike the federal government, states can’t print money,” Douglas said. A Republican, Douglas added that—at the NGA’s recent meeting—he was “amazed” at how many issues GOP and Democratic governors agreed on.
Douglas said the Washington debate has been too narrowly focused on expanding coverage and arguing over who will pay the additional costs. “No matter who pays,” he said, healthcare is on a track to bankrupt families, employers and state governments.
Douglas said 25% of Vermont residents are on Medicaid, and the state has succeeded in lowering costs by concentrating on improving the quality of primary care that Medicaid beneficiaries receive and assisting in the coordination of their care through a health information exchange financed by an “assessment” on health insurance claims. “We don’t use the ‘T-word,’ ” Douglas said, clearly referring to the word tax.
Other state programs Douglas cited as examples included a Minnesota initiative to rank
providers according to a cost and quality formula based on the cardiovascular, diabetes and preventive care they provide; and a Washington state effort aimed at lowering the overuse of certain procedures.
In what is something of a tradition, companies used the HIMSS conference to make big business announcements.
GE Healthcare announced that it has a name for its long-awaited software product born of its five-year collaboration with Intermountain Healthcare, Salt Lake City and a two-year development relationship with the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
The system will be called Qualibria; it’s what GE describes in a news release as a “clinical knowledge platform” that will bring together real-time data from clinician IT systems and compare them with “baselines of evidencebased best practices.”
The company also announced that Mayo has expanded its collaboration with GE and will contribute further to the development of clinical content best practices, including treatment protocols that will be made avail- able to other Qualibria customers, according to the release.
Meanwhile, IBM announced it completed its acquisition of Initiate Systems, a Chicago-based provider of probabilistic matching software systems, a key technology in the identification of medical records in information exchange. IBM had announced last month it intended to acquire Initiate, which in 2006 received venture-capital funding from In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm founded by the CIA to invest in promising technologies of use to the spy service.
And Cleveland-based Hyland Software, a maker of enterprise contentmanagement software, announced that it had acquired eWebHealth, a Reading, Mass., company that hosts medicalrecord workflow solutions. In July of last year, Hyland bought Valco Data Systems, which provides document management and imaging, workflow and health information management services for hospitals, regional health information organizations and integrated delivery networks. With this purchase, according to a Hyland news
release, the company’s customer base now includes more than 1,000 healthcare organizations.
Another HIMSS tradition is the releasing of various IT surveys and reports to serve as discussion points for the conference.
Among the most notable of these was Surescripts’ report Advancing Healthcare in America: 2009 National Progress Report on E-Prescribing, Plus What’s Ahead for 2010 and
Beyond, which reported that the number of prescriptions routed electronically tripled last year.
According to the report, Surescripts tallied 191 million electronic prescriptions in 2009 compared with 68 million in 2008. Meanwhile, the number of e-prescriptions jumped to 18% of total prescriptions written in the U.S. from 6.6% over the same period.
The report also stated that the number of providers using e-prescribing more than doubled to 156,000 from 74,000.
More vendors exhibited at the HIMSS conference, and overall attendance rose slightly.
Chaiken: IT systems must be products providers want to use.