HIMSS CEO Look Back and Ahead

SAN DIEGO — In contrast to the massive scale and long, grueling days of the annual, winter Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, the summer HIMSS Summit is a small, focused meeting free of the hype of 900-some vendor displays and the crush of 20,000-plus attendees. Pragmatism reigns at this meeting.

“IT is not going to reduce flat out the cost of healthcare,” says HIMSS chief executive H. Stephen Lieber. The only way costs will go down is if people are healthier and thus require fewer costly services. Information technology can facilitate change, but not cause it, Lieber told Digital Healthcare & Productivity here Monday at the HIMSS Summit.

“There isn’t one solution,” Lieber adds.

Acknowledging the reality that healthcare is complicated, Chicago-based HIMSS is continuing its strategy of branching beyond its roots. “Clinical IT has been important for a long time,” Lieber says. Historically, the organization’s viewpoint has come from the perspective of the IT professional or the vendor. “Now, we have to get all stakeholders together,” Lieber says.

Just last week, HIMSS announced a partnership with the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems (AMDIS) to address issues related to physician informatics. That was the latest in a string of deals HIMSS has struck in recent years. (See “HIMSS AFEHCT Initiative Launches.”)

Lieber spent a big chunk of the past two years traveling the globe, staging events in Asia and Europe, and sharing experiences with health-IT professionals and policy-makers in other countries.

The old saw, “We’re so different, we can’t learn from each other,” may not apply to health-IT, since individuals around the world worry about the privacy and confidentiality of their health information, not to mention the desire to receive safe, effective care. “It’s remarkable how similar these issues are,” says Lieber.

What sets the United States and other industrialized nations apart is how healthcare is paid for, and Lieber is losing hope that Congress will come through with significant health-IT legislation anytime soon. “Every passing month means it’s less likely,” Lieber says.

However, Lieber notes, “We’re not as much dependent on government action as we were a year or two ago.”

After an initial push from government in the form of the regulatory loosening of Stark physician self-referral and Medicare anti-kickback rules to allow hospitals to donate 85 percent of the cost of EHRs to physician practices, Lieber reports that health systems are finding ways to make the exemption work as a platform for health information exchange.

Indeed, Lieber says that health information exchange has become one of the greatest challenges facing the health-IT industry. “The objective is the exchange of information and expertise across [medical] disciplines, across geography,” the HIMSS boss says.

The initial exuberance for Regional Health Information Organizations during David Brailer’s two-year run as national health-IT coordinator has settled, leaving would-be RHIOs to wrestle with the reality of finding a working business model. Just last week, a Pennsylvania exchange shut down last week for want of cash.

“Until we provide incentives for the management of data, all of these [organizations] have difficult outlooks,” Lieber says.

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