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Healthcare Gets Back to Business at HIMSS22

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   March 22, 2022

HIMSS22 returned to form last week in Orlando with a smaller yet energetic event, and a mission to reimagine health so that it works for everyone.

This year's HIMSS22 conference may have been more about improving the healthcare experience for everyone—healthcare workforce included—than patient care.

The annual get-together of HIMSS made its return to form with a weeklong event last week in Orlando, featuring a smaller but energetic exhibition hall, busy educational sessions, an inspiring closing keynote on mental health by Olympic champion Michael Phelps, and a "let's get back to business" air that recognized the challenges facing the healthcare industry.

And while the theme was "Reimagine Health," the focus was squarely on new technologies and processes that improve workflows and make it easier for providers to deliver care, thus reducing the stress on an overworked and shrinking workforce.

"They can't deliver care if you don't have healthy caregivers," one attendee said in the exhibit hall.

Caused in large part by the pandemic, the healthcare workforce in the U.S. is down to only 450,000, according to Roy Jakobs, chief business leader of connected care for Philips, which opened HIMSS22 at a virtual press briefing. That workforce is expected to be short 3.2 million by 2026, he said, forcing health systems to be creative about how they deliver health and support their employees.

There are many reasons for this shortage, beginning with surging rates of stress, depression, and burnout that are pushing people out of healthcare and causing many others to have second thoughts about joining the workforce. To address these challenges, HIMSS offered dozens of sessions on behavioral health access and innovation for both patients and providers, while several exhibit hall presentations and booths targeted preventive health and wellness, as well as mental health integrations (often through virtual care) with clinical services.

Beyond that, many healthcare companies sought to highlight technology that improves the clinical care process, including AI and digital health tools and platforms that reduce the administrative burden for healthcare providers and improve workflows. The theme running around the convention center was that technology should be used not only to boost clinical outcomes and improve access to care but to make the clinician's job easier.

"The pandemic has fast-tracked how we think about healthcare," said Elise Kohl-Grant, chief information officer at Innovative Management Solutions NY, whose presentation at HIMSS22 focused on how to advance "equitable interoperability" to help underserved communities access behavioral health services that address the social determinants of health.

Speaking in a bustling corridor at the Orange County Convention Center prior to her session, Kohl-Grant spoke about the structural determinants that often define healthcare access, and about how new technology, from natural language processing tools that record and summarize conversations to data-mining tools that pull out relevant information, can help care providers improve their interactions with patients. This means the providers spend less time doing administrative work and more time understanding why a patient needs care and how to better provide that care.

"Simple things like appointment reminders can make a lot of difference," she said. And while those reminders help patients remember and plan for their appointments, a digital health platform that automatically sends out those reminders reduces stress on the providers, helps them cut down on missed appointments, and boost patient engagement.

"We've learned to be more nimble and change when we need to," said Don Gerhart Jr., RPh, who works in pharmacy clinical informatics at Pennsylvania-based WellSpan Health, and led a presentation on using AI for smart data migration and EHR consolidation. Gerhart said health systems that can use new technology to fine-tune the EHR and improve clinical functions not only boost efficiency, but also make clinicians more proficient and even appreciative of the EHR.

And that makes the whole healthcare experience better.

Putting a Spotlight on Innovation

To be sure, the pandemic has changed a lot about healthcare. Beyond the staggering and still-growing toll on patients, it cast a spotlight on a health system that had to pivot quickly and become innovative to handle the surge. Hospitals that had never tried telehealth launched new services within weeks, while others saw their 10-year digital health plan accomplished in a year.

There was clear evidence in the exhibit hall, where Zoom—once considered too simplistic for healthcare—now commands a presence as one of the fastest-growing virtual health platforms. Salesforce, a relatively new entrant into the healthcare industry, highlighted services honed in the business world that aim to improve back-end operations, strengthen patient engagement, and allow care providers to spend less time on a computer and more time with their patients.

Hyland Software offered a presentation of its new connected care platform, featuring technology that pulls in and sorts unstructured data coming from outside the EHR. Get Real Health held a press conference at its booth to unveil CHBase Unify, a "digital front door app platform" that represents the evolution of the personal health record and aims to improve patient engagement. Bamboo Health—formerly Appriss Health and PatientPing—talked up care collaboration and integration at its booth, while symplr and Tegria chatted up the benefits of health systems partnering with tech companies and even outsourcing services to reduce the IT burden.

And while health systems have always had a limited presence in a venue designed to focus on vendors, Intermountain Health planted itself squarely in the middle of the floor with a large booth. The Salt Lake City–based health system has always been one of the leaders in digital health innovation, with a virtual care network spanning several states. Its participation in HIMSS22 points to the challenges that hospitals and health systems now face in increased competition from retail health providers and health plans and telehealth companies that have their own networks of providers.

"It is about patient choice now," said Michelle Machon, RN, MSN, DNP, CPHIMS, CENP, director of clinical education, practice & informatics for the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, who was in town to anchor a presentation on how technology changed pandemic communications.

Machon said that when the pandemic started, health systems launched virtual care services using whatever they could find, including Zoom, Skype, and Google Chat, because that's what their patients wanted to use. And they were innovating in other areas as well, using baby monitors in the ICU and commercial blood glucose monitors to track patients in isolation.

"Now it's becoming the norm," she said.

Like so many others said at HIMSS, Machon says healthcare will change because the public will want it. They've seen what virtual health can do during a pandemic, and how technology has improved their travel, banking, retail, and dining experiences, and they'll demand that of their care providers or look for someone who will offer that experience.

Healthcare leaders, meanwhile, will look at soaring rates of stress and burnout and ever-shrinking workforces and conclude that a healthy workforce is an imperative, and that means not only addressing mental health needs but making it easier and more efficient for care providers to do their job.

“The pandemic has fast-tracked how we think about healthcare.”

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

After a year off due to COVID-19 and a virtual event in Las Vegas, HIMSS22 found its footing last week in Orlando, with a smaller-but-busy exhibit hall, energetic sessions, and a keynote on mental health by Olympian Michael Phelps.

While the theme of the event was "Reimagine Health," the focus seemed to be on improving not only patient care but the healthcare experience, with an emphasis on health and wellness for caregivers and technology that improves the clinician's workload.

Innovation was driven by the experiences of health systems during the pandemic, with new platforms and tools emphasizing ease and efficiency and the value of virtual care.


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