Leading, Listening, and Learning at HIMSS 2012

Nora Super | March 14, 2012

From February 20 through 24, 2012, a contingent of staff members of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) set off for Las Vegas to take part in the Health Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) 2012 annual conference. This year’s meeting was the largest health IT conference ever, bringing together more than 37,000 participants from all over the world.

ONC Participation at HIMSS 2012

ONC staff participated in more than 20 pre-conference symposia and educational sessions, presenting on a wide range of topics from the health information exchange landscape to consumer outreach initiatives. Once again this year, ONC shared an exhibit booth with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to promote greater understanding of the Meaningful Use EHR incentive initiative and other programs initiated by the HITECH Act and ensure participants know where and how to get their questions answered. The booth theater proved to be another opportunity for HIMSS 2012 participants to hear from ONC and CMS experts, as well as program grantees and other federal partners. Perhaps the mostly highly anticipated and well-attended events, however, were those that described the newly released ONC and CMS proposed rules on Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use incentive program. The proposed rulemaking sets a high standard designed to improve health and health care. We look forward to continued input through the 60-day comment period process.

In his keynote address at HIMSS 2012, National Coordinator Farzad Mostashari told attendees about his early years as a public health doctor when he first became passionate about health IT and the power of data. It was then that he recognized that digitizing data would allow him to find those patients who could benefit the most from population-based health management strategies.

Listening Sessions

But ONC staff didn’t go to HIMSS 2012 just to talk, we also made sure we spent a lot of time listening to our many valued stakeholders about how we are doing and what we can do better in implementing the HITECH Act. We hosted listening sessions filled with CIOs and CMIOs and nurse executives and managers. We listened to the concerns of CEOs of large companies as well as those of small start-ups. We also hosted sessions on specific topics, such as clinical quality information and whether hospitals and physicians have the health IT infrastructure needed to create accountable care organizations.

In addition to leading and listening, I believe all of us who attended HIMSS 2012 also learned a great deal. We learned that we have made great strides since the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology was established just six years ago. The number of physicians using electronic health records (EHRs) has doubled in two years, as has the number of hospitals. That kind of growth is phenomenal and something we should truly celebrate. Yet while we’ve come a long way, we also recognize we still have a way to go in meeting the needs of doctors, nurses, hospitals, and ultimately those whom we want to benefit the most—the patient.

Walking around the exhibit floor, many of us were somewhat disheartened to hear about usability concerns.

Clinicians complained that Meaningful Use wasn’t necessarily meaningful to them and greatly disrupted their workflow. Workforce needs were great and finding the right workers to perform in this high-paced, quickly changing environment was difficult. The barriers to actual exchange and interoperability of health information are still high. We heard that ONC needs to do a better job communicating what we are doing to lower those barriers, but also we need to challenge those in the private sector to do what they can do to lower some of the barriers they create—either real or perceived.

Bright Spots at HIMSS 2012

The bright spots at HIMSS were that thousands upon thousands of attendees seemed be coalescing around principles of population-based health, care coordination, and patient-centeredness. Payment reforms are driving both the public and private sector to align incentives in ways that were not even fathomable five years ago. EHR vendors, physicians, hospitals—and all of us trying to better provide and deliver health care—have begun to put the patient front and center while considering policy and programmatic options. And while I can’t tell how you how all of these innovative approaches will evolve in the future, it is clear that health IT is foundational for this care transformation.

For more information on how health IT protects privacy and health information security, visit http://www.healthit.gov.