HIMSS Annual Conference 2017 was abound in talks, events and sessions that gave valuable insights into the state of the Healthcare IT industry, and its priorities for 2017 and beyond.

The annual Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference is the signature event of the year in the world of Healthcare IT. 43,000 Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) professionals attended HIMSS17 in Orlando this February. Predictably, uncertainty regarding regulations and the top three HIT buzz terms (population health, interoperability, and cybersecurity) were prevalent. However, underlying these topics were other important threads giving a valuable insight into the state of the Healthcare IT industry, and its priorities for 2017.

More Is Less

Simplifying interfaces and processes for the end users was one of the themes of HIMSS17. Be it for interoperability or data security purposes, telehealth or mobile solutions, data analysis and presentation, decision support systems or Electronic Health Records (EHR), ease of use and simplicity are among the top unaddressed needs of the healthcare providers.

During an HIMSS fireside chat, Andy Slavitt, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) under the Obama administration, criticized the HIT vendors for exploiting the hype rather than focusing on satisfying its customers. Thousands of providers are not happy with their EHR solutions and the technology available on the market, says Slavitt. The CMS is partly to blame as it has been too prescriptive in its push for Meaningful Use regulation.

HIT developers and providers building native solutions stress the importance of simplifying the user interfaces and the way data is presented. The technology and the use of the Electronic Health Records, EHR, are among the top causes of physician burnout hampering productivity, the so-called IT productivity paradox. “For every hour physicians provide direct clinical face time to patients, nearly 2 additional hours is spent on EHR. Outside office hours, physicians spend another 1 to 2 hours of personal time each night doing additional computer and other clerical work,” according to Annals of Internal Medicine.

So, the industry needs to collaborate on interoperability solutions, such as unified standard FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) and semantic data analysis.

When bringing different fragments of a patient’s health history together in interoperability solutions, or generating decision support reports and notifications, HIT solutions face the challenge of making an overwhelming wealth of data meaningful. Complex charts and graphs hamper understanding, whereas the relevant and useful data presented in clean, easy-to-grasp layout assists the decision-makers.

So, our first takeaway from HIMSS17 is – simplicity is genius.

Care Coordination

Understanding the data and using it to achieve better outcomes in value-based care is one of the key goals for providers.

LifeBridge Health featured SNF Collaborative, a network that aims to standardize and share best practices across systems, enhance patient outcomes and experience, improve problem-solving and collective navigation. Data-driven predictive analytics in SNF Collaborative has proven to reduce readmissions, optimize placements, coordinate care, improve hospital discharge and population management.

The critical component of a data-driven strategy is building and maintaining smart provider networks that must be a) transparent, b) standardized, and c) operational.

The outcomes of SNF to date prove transparency and data exchange improve the hospital discharge, admission, and transfer processes, reduce overall adjusted readmission rates, and improve quality metrics. The next goal is to accelerate population health management.

Transparency, standardization, performance and communication help achieve better outcomes. Data is abundant, so the developers must turn it into intelligence, and intelligence to action.

Benchmark Senior Living and BigCloud Analytics featured the findings of a pilot that leveraged wearables to reduce admissions, educate senior patients, and analyze wearables-generated data to improve prevention. When implementing a solution reliant on wearables in senior patients, the challenge was to simplify data sync and charging routines, as well as understand the generated data, particularly defining what a “normal” baseline for senior population should look like.

The data generated by wearables showed the senior patients displayed behavioral deviations such as reduction in sleep, a decline in activity levels, and a major spike in behaviorally confirmed awakening (BCA) sleep index four days before hospitalization. The wearables, engagement with technology, and predictive analytics facilitate proactive care, while lowering healthcare costs. The educational role of technology increases patient engagement through data visualization and gamification, and engages a senior’s family and caregivers, improving overall health and wellness.

Onpointe’s Clinical Cognitive Science solution relies on predictive analytics to lower the risk of post-acute readmissions that cost providers $11K in penalties per single readmission. The Clinical Cognitive Science relies on predictive analytics, Big Data, and machine learning to identify at-risk patients and interventions. Deployed at Baptist Health, Alabama, the pilot was able to help predict the adverse effects, the optimal length of stay and best day for discharge, and predict and prevent 90-day readmissions.

The changes in patient population, accountability, consumerism, transparency and standardization are the current leading long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) trends.

Defining and identifying patient population attributable to the provider’s system is the challenge, and the solution is stratifying level of risk (by chronic conditions, repeat visits, medication non-adherence), defining data and algorithms that determine gaps/variations in care, and translating information into improved outcomes.

The depth of care coordination necessary for the industry to adapt to value-based models requires clinicians to communicate within and beyond the hospital. The clinicians need instant, accessible and easy-to-use tools that enable collaborative care and give them access to a broader care team, the Protected Health Information (PHI), and the patient.

Innovation and Investment

The near universal adoption of health IT sees spikes in innovative solutions leveraging the cloud, AI, and ubiquitous mobile technologies. At the HIMSS/CHIME talk, Dr. Joel Selanikio said the consumer software is likely to “take the lion’s share of “health” away from the healthcare industry – lowering our requirements for doctors, nurses and other staff dramatically.”

TeraRecon featured the HoloPack Portal; a cloud-based augmented reality solution used for medical imaging. It leverages the capabilities of the Microsoft HoloLens visor to extend the 3D viewing of CT scan anatomical reconstructions to 3D projected in the headset viewer. The finger movements to shrink, zoom in and rotate and voice commands enable surgeons to view the 3D images during surgeries without compromising the sterile environment.

Novarad featured Ncompass, its HoloLens-enabled enterprise imaging solution that lets medical professionals see registered CT and MRI data overlaid on the patient laying on the examination table. Gesture controls allow doctors to go through the datasets layer by layer, or slice by slice, and change their orientation. It is a work in progress, but the demo showed how surgeons could view anatomical structures in real time without checking the reference screen across the room, or ask someone to change the view.

AI, or machine learning, is set to help physicians navigate their Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems with ease by working on top of the picture archive and communication system (PACS)/medical image archives/specialty reporting systems as an overlay software system. Machine learning trains the AI to recognize complex patterns, relations of data relevant to the disease or image reviewed by the physician. In Agfa’s implementation of IBM Watson, for example, the AI can look at a digital X-ray image and correctly diagnose lung cancer, or identify the evidence of previous heart surgeries.

In a short-term perspective, mobile, telehealth and SaaS cloud solutions for data storage and operations (as opposed to on-premise storage) are areas where most providers are looking to outsource.

Artificial intelligence and augmented reality 3D imaging visors are among the top trends to keep a close eye on for investment opportunities, alongside mobile technologies in telehealth and everything with a “cloud” name in it.