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Insights from HIMSS17

At the biggest health IT conference of the year, two themes dominated: data and patient experience. There were no easy answers—but plenty of exciting possibilities.

There is incredible potential for the entire healthcare industry to benefit from a free, but secure, flow of information. As healthcare organizations consolidate, organize, store, and leverage data—beyond just the electronic medical record—care can become more individualized and effective. Much of the HIMSS17 conference focused on the challenges to this vision and how to accomplish it while putting patients at the center of care.

Capturing the data that matters

For most healthcare organizations, data is king. Electronic health records are widely adopted, and technology is less of an issue. Still, stark challenges remain with certain types of data collection.


Measuring outcomes


Outcomes data remains a gaping hole. It’s not being captured, so it is not being shared or used in analytics models to validate evidence or care guidelines. Until we can understand whether our decisions improve quality of life, we will be stymied in efforts to contain healthcare costs.

A recent report found that only 10% of adverse drug events are reported. Two of the biggest reasons for this frightening statistic are lack of physician time and lack of integration in systems to report these events. Public health demands resolution of these challenges.


The genomics gap


Many anticipate a future of personalized medicine informed by widespread genome sequencing and editing. But if today’s providers want a genomics system, they must employ a development team to “homebrew” the core elements. And that’s far from the only challenge in the exploding field of genomics. Rapid change is inevitable, so if you go down this road, stick to short-term contracts.


Data-driven decisions


Data and analytics are not useful if they don’t tell you what to do. We can put the human genome in the palm of a doctor’s hand—but without short, clear, and actionable advice, there is no adoption.

“Outcomes must become more important and valued than dashboards.”

Think about how Amazon uses the information it collects about you to suggest your next purchase. This is the way we need to be thinking about healthcare data. How can this data drive better results for patients and the bottom line? Outcomes must become more important and valued than dashboards, and data must be consumable for physicians, administrators, and other decision makers, with elements that are relevant to their roles.


Cracking the nut of interoperability


We’re at an all-time high in collaboration between payers and providers, above and beyond accountable care organizations (ACOs). But progression in this area will be stalled until we can enable seamless information sharing between systems. Major investments are being made in digitization of health records with a common API.

The starting point of interoperability is rigorous master data management and data governance. The member-to-patient identification problem will multiply as more providers get involved. Privacy and security need to be addressed strategically to ensure authorization for the right roles. And testing should never be forgotten.

The national Health IT Certification program of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology—ONC HIT certification—is part of the solution and continues to conduct pilot programs. At HIMSS17, the ONC offered timely advice for negotiating healthcare IT electronic health record (EHR) contracts based on security, system performance, data rights, interoperability, IP sharing issues, risk and liability, dispute resolution, and transition issues.


Machine intelligence hype


There was plenty of talk about machine learning, cognitive computing, and artificial intelligence at HIMSS 17. Current solutions are mostly smoke and mirrors, squarely in the beta stage, but the future is bright.

“Current machine intelligence solutions are mostly smoke and mirrors, squarely in the beta stage, but the future is bright.”

Machine intelligence analytics involves taking large, complex data sets and applying experimentally driven observation to find statistically significant correlations across collated data. By applying this technique to real, observed data, Mercy Health was able to reduce care variation for total knee replacement surgery by optimizing standard care practices.

Correlation results were viewed through topological data analysis to visually show data segments, allowing Mercy to identify variations across facilities and physicians, such as implant type and pre-operative medication usage. This “unsupervised learning” methodology stands in stark contrast to conventional, hypothesis-driven inquiries and shows the potential of machine intelligence to react to hypotheses and implement changes to care pathways much more quickly. Mercy supplemented their analysis with “supervised machine learning,” using CareEvolution to look at variation in patient flow and key relationships that impact patient experience.

Because of this work, Mercy will save $50M over the next three years in direct variable costs. The same approach is now being applied to identify sub-populations of diseases—including breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, Parkinsons, and asthma—and develop targeted, precision-guided treatment plans that prevent future complications and account for variability in medication efficacy.


Cybersecurity wags the dog


The more data we collect, the more critical security becomes. Shark Tank hosts Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary pressed the HIMSS17 audience on the importance of health information. They believe that health data is ten times more valuable than credit card numbers on the black market. Moreover, if someone steals your credit card, your bank will simply send you another one. With health records, foreign criminals can steal valuable data or shut down critical systems with little risk of being prosecuted.

“Like the tail wagging the dog, security concerns continue to dominate many conversations and impede forward movement.”

Security should be a given in all healthcare technology, but many aging systems—some twenty years old—are now connected and vulnerable. Like the tail wagging the dog, security concerns continue to dominate many conversations and impede forward movement.

Cybersecurity begins with human behavior and culture change. Organizations need to go beyond annual security training that employees tend to put on autoplay and tune out. Instead, develop quick, engaging communications and bite-sized training. Make it enjoyable and set a clear example that’s easy to follow.

Treating patients as consumers

Based on their experiences in retail, technology, and other industries, patients’ expectations of healthcare are rising. Healthcare organizations must adopt a customer-centric approach and consider the patient experience as a narrative. This framework goes by many names, including “risk trajectories/profiles,” “customer lifetime value,” and “patient journeys.”

Patient experiences will matter more than ever as rising healthcare costs continue to outpace economic growth. This discrepancy is a big concern for the industry and for families. It also means that if you can provide high quality care at the lowest cost, you don’t have to worry (as much) about what may happen with the government.

Opportunities for healthcare organizations to meet rising patient expectations include:

  • Think about how to manage patient health when they’re outside your four walls.
  • Allow patients to check-in from home before they come in.
  • Text patients when their prescription is ready or their doctor is running late.
  • Use video visits to reduce no-show challenges and make follow-ups easier.
  • Learn from exceptional customer experiences in other industries, like the Apple Store.

This extends to digital marketing. Consider how many visitors visit your webpage and how many visit your hospital lobby. How does the budget to make your lobby look nice compare to what you invest in your web presence? Marketing executives often need to educate their C-suite colleagues on the value of digital marketing in healthcare.

A connected future

The great thinking our Slalom healthcare experts brought back from over 300 sessions and 1,200 exhibitors at HIMSS went far beyond the key themes addressed above. From exciting models of emergency telehealth and lean management to new ways of leveraging AWS, Qlik, Salesforce, and Tableau, we look forward to bringing it all back to our clients. The future of healthcare is data-driven, human-centered, and full of opportunity.

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