HIMSS11: A Random Walk through the Future of HIT

March 2, 2011
Marion K. Jenkins, PhD, FHIMSS

Healthcare IT is in a state of flux and change, with constant improvement and upgrades. With established companies rolling out new versions of their systems, alongside new entrants who are bringing new systems to market, the features and horsepower of HIT systems has never been greater.

Perhaps you were one of the approximately 30,000 people who attended HIMSS11 last week in Orlando, and walked by the seemingly miles of trade show booths of more than 900 IT vendors, from the big multi-national mega players to the little guys.

I thought I would share a few insights from that experience, for those of you who might not have been there.

First, even for a technologist such as myself, the trade show itself was almost overwhelming. Huge vendor booths the size of a small airport terminal, with massive LCD “walls” reminiscent of a mini-Times Square. Myriad displays of technology-enabled medical devices, ranging from water-resistant monitors being deluged in a continuous water spray, to hi-tech beds that weigh the patient and/or tell the nursing staff the patient is getting out of bed, to GPS tracking systems to keep track of wandering laptops. There was something for anyone - hardware, software, services.

Fronting many of the booths were artists, magicians, entertainers, and virtual carnival barkers, with enough trade show giveaways and fishbowl-drawing items - some expensive and some cheap - to fully stock several Spencer’s Gifts stores. And enough hardware and software to run a medium sized city.

In the educational sessions, which were very well attended, topics ran the gamut, ranging from ARRA/HITECH to meaningful use to interoperability to HIPAA security to ACOs. From headliners like Dr. David Blumenthal, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Michael J. Fox, to down-to-earth IT consultants, the educational content was richer than ever.

What are the takeaways from such a conference? Here are my observations:

Healthcare IT is in a state of flux and change, with constant improvement and upgrades. With established companies rolling out new versions of their systems, alongside new entrants who are bringing new systems to market, the features and horsepower of HIT systems has never been greater.

The hardware and software choices are dazzling as well as dizzying. There have never been more choices among different IT systems and vendors - and perhaps more confusion among customers and potential customers. Of course HIMSS is more focused around hospitals, large provider networks and health systems, but there was still plenty to attract the attention of physician practice attendees.

Although the state of adoption still has a long way to go, especially among physician practices, there was definitely a lot more action at the EHR vendors’ booths than in the past. Whether that apparent increased activity translates into actual sales and implementations remains to be seen, but there definitely seemed to be more activity.

There was a veritable technology “arms race” amongst the vendors themselves, with the major vendors pulling out all the stops to showcase their wares. In addition to the massive booths mentioned above, the vendors had almost non-stop demonstrations of their systems, led by people who know the systems so well that their actions almost seemed effortless.

A hospital CIO that I know well summed up his HIMSS expectations and experience well. He said he generally doesn’t go there looking for “what’s new,” but rather to meet with specific targeted vendors. And when watching a demo, he recognizes that it’s a very skilled person working on a prototype system with clean data and well-scripted navigation moves. They want to talk to an organization that has already implemented that system and is in production.

“We take a cynical approach," he said.

For a complete recap of the HIMSS11 conference from Physicians Practice, click here.