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HIMSS09 Recap: Stimulus, Interoperability, and More

Carrie Vaughan, for HealthLeaders Media, April 14, 2009

Attendance was "off" at the HIMSS09 conference held this past week in Chicago, but the hospital, physician, and health plan executives who were in attendance were the "more serious buyers" and the "decision makers," according to the chief information officers and vendors that I spoke with during the event. Providers scaled back their attendance and some vendors had less elaborate booths for obvious budgetary reasons. However, there were still billiard tricks, a green man group, and other gimmicks on the exhibition floor. Here's a quick glance at some of the key takeaways from the conference.

There are still no real answers about the definition of "meaningful use" of certified EHR technology or what the payment schedule will be for doling out stimulus funds. HIMSS did create a discussion forum on the definition of meaningful use and you can post comments through April 17th. Here are a few of the thoughts attendees shared with me about what "meaningful use" should include:

  • The ability to quantify and report improved patient safety, quality outcomes, and cost reductions.
  • Disease management and decision support tools for patients and families.
  • CPOE and e-prescribing.
  • The ability to track and communicate public health issues.
  • Community health information exchanges between hospitals, clinics, physicians, and patients.

Healthcare providers should not wait until the end of the year for the definition of "meaningful use" to form their IT strategy. The general consensus was if you wait, you will be behind and probably won't qualify for the maximum reimbursement provided in the stimulus package. "It's not time to panic, but it is also not time to procrastinate," said Charles Christian, director of information systems and CIO at Good Samaritan Hospital in southwest Indiana. "We are expected to do the work and show the outcome of that work before we get a nickel," he says.

There was a lot of excitement about the interoperability showcase, which demonstrated how some 78 different products could interact in various care settings. Attendees could take a tour of patient care devices, for example, to see how the equipment that nurses, physicians, and anesthesiologists use could be connected to provide the same information about a preoperative patient in real-time to all caregivers.

Personal health records are no longer optional. HITECH includes specific requirements to provide patients with an electronic copy of their health data upon request, said John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Business School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. There is also speculation about whether data sharing between an EHR and PHR will qualify for the interoperability requirements of meaningful use, he says.

HIPAA requirements are more strict. New privacy and security regulations in the stimulus package require organizations that have a data breach to contact all of their patients, a major news outlet in their region, and the HHS secretary. In addition, business associates that process or handle patient information on behalf of providers are now subject to fines and must comply with the rules, as well. This means that the business relationship between providers and vendors that handle patient information may have to be retooled. For example, should providers only do business with partners that provide a copy of their security audit?

Interoperable EHRs and removable media devices pose new security risks for providers. With the prospect of interoperable EHRs comes a myriad of concerns regarding patient confidentiality. CIOs are also concerned about the security risks of removable media that can be mass storage devices mainly because, unlike a company laptop that goes missing, they may have no idea a removable storage device is being used or was lost.

For more coverage of HIMSS09 check out these articles:


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Carrie Vaughan is a senior editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at cvaughan@healthleadersmedia.com.

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