HIMSS16 Preview: Consumerism, Cybercrime and FHIR

Although the 2016 HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition next week is coming to Las Vegas just a month or so after the Consumer Electronics Show, no one would ever mistake the two.

While HIMSS16 is likely to break its own attendance record of 43,129 set last year in Chicago, CES is in a class of its own, with more than 170,000 attendees.

CES is all about the gadgets (some gadgets, of course, being 88-inch 4K televisions or electronic cars) that technology-obsessed consumers swoon over, while the HIMSS annual conference will continue to emphasize infrastructure, policy and education for healthcare IT professionals – it’s bread-and-butter for the past quarter century. Picture1.jpg

That being said, HIMSS16 reflects the organization’s growing embrace of the roles consumerism and gadgetry are now playing in the health IT ecosystem. Sessions like “Empowering Clinicians with Smartphone Technology” and “The Internet of Healthcare Things” recognize that it’s not all about the EHR anymore. And the lunch and learn session “Holograms, Wearables and Future Technology: How Trends in Technology are Changing the Face of Patient Care” gets my vote for the most promising session at the show based on its title. I mean, holograms!

Writing over at Healthcare IT News, Penn Medicine chief information officer Mike Restuccia listed “wearables” as one of his top three things to seek out at the show. He says, “Penn Medicine successfully completed a pilot study to monitor the blood pressure of 20 postpartum women over a high risk period of time. Key components of the pilot study were a wireless Bluetooth blood pressure cuff, smartphonoe and the integration with our Epic electronic medical record. Ill be on the lookout to see what other healthcare and vendor organizations are doing in the space of wearables and remote monitoring.”

Interoperability on FHIR

I’ll also be interested to see how much attention the new HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standards framework generates. Last year, FHIR generated a lot of buzz on the strength of a couple of demonstrations and breakfast talk. This year, there are a half-dozen sessions devoted to the emerging framework, such as ‘Innovation on FHIR: Clinical Application Development using the Evolving Standard."

I did some interviews on FHIR for an upcoming research piece and I can see why developers, especially those from Silicon Valley’s start-ups, are excited. FHIR leverages standard web-based API technologies to improve interoperability — moving healthcare away from a “document” exchange model to a more granular object-level exchange.

If and when FHIR achieves maturity and broad acceptance, it will open up the often insular and complex world of health IT vendors to thousands of developers of new, interoperable apps and consumer devices.

(What I really need now is a session where an expert convinces me why we should pronounce the FHIR acronym like “fire.” I don’t get it.)

Criminal Intent

Finally, the conference continues the organization’s emphasis on security. A key topic at past shows, there are 28 individual sessions dedicated to privacy and security at HIMSS16 and a “Cybersecurity Command Center” on the Exhibit floor.

One thing that I find really fascinating is the shift in language around security topics at HIMSS. In the early days, privacy and security sessions seemed to emphasize more neutral terms like “breaches” and “noncompliance.” But look at the description for Stephen Cobb’s session on managing health IT security risks: “Criminal activity in cyber-space, commonly referred to as cybercrime, can expose personally identifiable information (PII) to unauthorized access and abuse. Some criminals derive substantial income from black market sales of PII. Data thieves have discovered that the electronic patient records held by American healthcare providers and insurers can be a rich source of PII…”

“Cybercrime…” “Black market sales…” “Data thieves…” That’s kind of scary, right? But I don’t think Cobb, who has been researching and writing on these topics for 20 years, is an alarmist. Instead, his terms convey the true severity of the problem.

I think the former language of “breaches” minimized — and attempted to defang — the criminality of hacks and attacks. It was as if hospital executives didn’t want to use stronger imagery and create doubt in their patients’ minds. Or to put it another way, the neutral terms suggested that perhaps providers feared the damage to their organizations’ reputation rather than the actual harm inflicted by the attacks on their patients.

But I digress… Having covered the industry for more than a dozen years now, I sense a greater urgency and relevancy in the topics at the HIMSS Annual Conference. They address both the promises and the problems that health IT faces. Kudos to the organizers and it will be no surprise if the show does, as predicted, break its attendance record yet again.