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Reflections on HIMSS 2016

March 17, 2016

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I recently returned from two and a half whirlwind days at the HIMSS16 annual conference in Las Vegas, which attracted about 45,000 individuals.  The event has grown substantially over the years, particularly since the passage of the HITECH act in 2009 and the resulting influx of dollars into the health information technology industry.

From my perspective, the biggest headline from the event was the growing attention to connected health.  For most of my 20 years in the business, this conference was not on my radar, because HIMSS was all about electronic medical records (EMR) and making doctor’s work more efficient, while our work was focused on patient-centered technology-enabled care.  I think my first time attending was 2010 and, at that point, I decided to go every other year or so, mostly as a curiosity.

Health Healthcare Disease Wellness Life Concept

This started to really change when HIMSS acquired the mHealth Summit and then Continua, which led to the launch of the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHA).  It took a while for them to think through how they would weave these assets into the HIMSS quilt and they are still working on that.  Last year, I attended the HIMSS annual meeting and had a speaking role.  There was enough attention paid to connected health that I marked my calendar to attend again this year.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talked about how certain phenomena seem to happen all at once, almost overnight.  So it is with connected health and HIMSS, this year. I can safely say this is now a must-attend meeting for connected health enthusiasts.

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With that backdrop, what did I learn at HIMSS?  I saw some interesting big-picture trends but nothing I could point to as industry-changing.  To be fair, I was tied up most of the time speaking about our new book, The Internet of Healthy Things.  In fact, I gave four talks on the subject and did three book signings.  It is hard to be in learning mode when you are spending so much energy in communication mode.  In addition, I gave a talk on a wonderful research collaboration we have with Philips around using their predictive modeling platform, CareSage, to predict which individuals are at greater risk for readmission.

Those caveats aside, here are a few observations.

  1. HIMSS upped their commitment to the space by orders of magnitude by bringing on Patty Mechael as the new executive VP for the Personal Connected Health Alliance.  Patty will officially begin her new role on April 15, and she will bring new energy and a wealth or relevant experience to this effort.  Look for lots of new programs and offerings in the coming months as this group takes a more prominent role.

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  1. Both Apple and Google were present and looking for the best way to play in this new interconnected world of mobile health and wearables. Apple has been more clear on their strategy.  I attended a briefing where three early adopters of HealthKit talked about their successes, emphasizing the ease with which data can move between the device and the EMR.  An important achievement, no doubt, but under-imagined.  We all know that only the earliest adopter MDs are ready for this type of data integration.  But, two challenges were not adequately addressed in their talks. First, the fact that approximately 20% (maybe more) of the patients we want to reach via home monitoring programs do not own a mobile device.

Second, is the number of patients using either iOS or android.  Some speakers said that in their environment, iOS penetration is 80%.  Could chronically ill people have a propensity for iOS devices?  Even if that is the case, that means roughly 60% of a patient panel would be reached via this type of intervention (20% no mobile device and 20% of the remainder with android).  In our experience, programs of this type cross the threshold of meaningful financial outcomes when the vast majority of the population can be reached.  If 40 out of 100 patients never see the intervention, their outcomes will likely drown out the success of the other 60.  Clearly this is all a work in progress.

  1. While CES was about more and more wearables/sensors, HIMSS was about more and more analytics. Population health vendors and analytics tools were so abundant, it was hard for them to differentiate themselves.

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Perhaps our experience with Philips is illustrative.  There are many synergies between our organizations, including a longstanding relationship with our home care agency, Partners HealthCare at Home, and Philips Lifeline.  Philips approached us to examine the validity of their analytic engine in predicting which Lifeline pendant wearers would be at risk for high cost events.  The results will be shared in more detail in upcoming research papers and releases. What I can tell you now is that, using a data pull from our EMR, and matching it to the Lifeline data, we showed that the Philips analytics tool was 76% accurate at flagging patients at risk for a high cost event. It also gave us first-time data and insights on patient encounters outside of the Partners network (i.e., patients taking ambulance transports to non-Partners facilities).  This work was done by Steve Agboola, Sara Golas and colleagues on our Connected Health Innovation team.

  1. Patient engagement is still a much used (and abused) phrase. I did not see anything that stood out in this area.  We have a long way to go at both crisply defining and making true strides in this area.

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  1. An important component of our vision for connected health involves using wearables and mobile data as a phenotypic fingerprint from which to drive automated, contextual inspiring messages to improve your health. Several companies told me that they are on the same quest.  This is exciting and, as we learn more, I’m sure I’ll be writing about it in future posts.

My experience at HIMSS16 was validating in many ways.  As I traveled the hall speaking and signing books, I talked about the need for data normalization, pinpoint analytics, better designed products and tools that inspire people to improve their own health.  There is progress in all of these areas, but still much work to do.

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