A Consumer Perspective on the HIMSS 2012 Conference

Lygeia Ricciardi | March 2, 2012

Last week, 37,000 people gathered in Las Vegas for the HIMSS 2012 Conference—the health information technology industry’s largest annual meeting. Energy was high as product vendors and health care providers anxiously awaited the release of proposed rules for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use, the federal incentive program that is jumpstarting widespread adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) by doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers.

Amid the swirl of discussion of the nuts and bolts of technology implementation and the implications of payment reform, another theme emerged: the importance and potential of consumer and patient engagement in health care through technology.

As one chief information officer of a health care system and 20-year veteran of the conference confided to me, “Years ago at HIMSS, I’d try to talk to my colleagues about patient engagement, and they looked at me as if I had three heads—but this year things are different.”

In his keynote address, the National Coordinator for Health IT, Farzad Mostashari (@Farzad_ONC on Twitter), urged attendees at the HIMSS 2012 Conference to keep the patient in mind in everything they do. But his vision goes beyond the commonly held one of improving Hands touchingcare on behalf of the patient to improving care in true partnership with the patient. He shared the story of a doctor who serves a community of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. This doctor underwent a major mind shift when he realized that the medical records he kept were not, in fact, his alone—they belonged to his patients. And just as technology enables providers to do their jobs better, it empowers patients and consumers to be more effective partners in improving their own health and health care.

Others echoed this theme. U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin (@SGRegina on Twitter) described her Healthy Apps Challenge that supports wellness and prevention through consumer use of mobile phones. Health economist and blogger Jane Sarasohn Kahn (@healthythinker on Twitter) outlined the growing trend of “DIY Health,” through which individuals are taking on more health-related activities outside of the traditional health care system. Meanwhile, an enthusiastic group of more than 30 members of ONC’s Consumer Pledge Program met to discuss areas of greatest opportunity for consumer engagement in health through technology, ranging from incorporating elements of online gaming to supporting health behavior change to developing grade school curricula to teach kids—and their families—how to be good health care consumers.

Throughout the HIMSS 2012 Conference, colorful jackets painted by artist advocate Regina Holliday (@ReginaHolliday on Twitter) displayed participants’ personal stories on their backs as part of a unique walking mural project—reminding us that health and health care are personal. Finally, as part of a special “Learning from the Future” track, HealthCamp founder Mark Scrimshire (@ekivemark on Twitter) underscored the link between social media, empowerment of individuals, and the transformation of health care. I think he’s onto something. The kickoff keynote speech at HIMSS was by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone (@biz on Twitter), and in fact, this became the most highly tweeted health care conference in history, reaching nearly 300,000 people through Twitter. Social media and other health IT tools eliminate barriers, help people to make sense of complex information, and empower them to act. As one of Biz’s slides proclaimed: “It’s not a triumph of technology. It’s a triumph of humanity.”