Walking the HIMSS 2008 Exhibition Floor

By John Russell

March 4, 2008 | ORLANDO, Fla. — Attending the annual HIMSS conference is both exciting and numbing. The sheer size of the gathering is overwhelming. HIMSS reports there were around 28,000 attendees, and 900 exhibiting companies this year. It seemed like all of them plus a few members of their families converged at the same time at the Orlando airport following the conference’s close last Thursday. The previous high water mark was 24,870 attendees in 2006 in San Diego.

HIMSS organizers are already looking ahead to next year’s event, scheduled for April 4-8, 2009, in Chicago. They report 83% of space in the 2009 exhibition has already been reserved. Talk about a great business model, but frankly the conference’s success and growth results from its consistency. HIMSS delivers.

There were a few broad themes this year. Many technology suppliers were focused on upgrades that increased usability more than dramatic new functionality. EMR offerings were again abundant. There were also a few relative newcomers to the health care market such as Harris Corp, known more for its government work on secure — translation intelligence — communication and imaging technology. The buzz around RTL seemed more subdued, though there were plenty of offerings.

A good deal of effort was expended by Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and ONC coordinator Robert Kolodner in their presentations to convince the assembled that RHIO and NHIN were making progress. That, perhaps, remains to be seen. Former U.S. Senator Bill Frist’s opening keynote reminded everyone that the results of the 2008 presidential election may have farther reaching consequences than past elections though he didn’t predict dramatic change.

With so many companies to visit at HIMSS, it’s challenging to manage one’s time and retain what’s said. What follows are key points from a few of the meetings on my agenda.

Microsoft Re-brands Amalga
Microsoft’s ambitious health care strategy, delivered last year at HIMSS 2007 in CEO Steve Balmer’s opening keynote, has been undergoing refinement and “productization” ever since. This year Davide Vigano, Health Solutions Group and Steve Aylward, US-Health Care-MGMT, general manager handled most of the briefings. Yes, the buzz about Microsoft Health Vault was loud (as it was for Revolution Health from Steve Case and Google Health touted in CEO Eric Schmidt’s keynote) but Vigano and Aylward focused on deciphering Amalga, Microsoft’s re-branding of its enterprise products into three offerings.

Amalga is the new version of Azyxxi (must be something about the letter A) which Microsoft says is “part of a new software category called Unified Intelligence Systems.” Basically, it’s a vast data capture, storage, and analytics engine. Amalga vacuums data from hospital systems, including all metadata, and puts the data into a single repository. Isn’t that redundant? Yes, but as storage is cheap, Microsoft argues it’s a small price to pay for vastly faster and simplified access to all data; the ability to manipulate data from different systems; and ready extensibility to non-medical-specific software such as HR and business functions

Amalga Hospital Information System (HIS) is a new version of the product previously named Hospital 2000, designed for developing and emerging markets and including several integrated applications (e.g. EMR). Amalga RIS/PACS, a new version of the product formerly known as GCS Amalga is now available as a stand-alone system as well as an integrated component of Amalga HIS. Clearly, Microsoft’s push into health care is not losing steam.

LG Electronics Targets Patient Applications
If you were thinking “digital signage” you’d be right. LG Electronics has been selling its display technology into health care for some time, though many observers may be more familiar with the Zenith brand under which much of the product was sold. This year LG is vigorously branding its own health care push and emphasizing displays at the patient experience more than staff.

LG was one of the first monitor companies to embed digital rights management (DRM) technology into its displays. In this case it used Pro:Idiom DRM which LG developed in conjunction with LodgeNet Entertainment Corporation as standard. Pro:Idiom was first aimed at the hotel industry. Other companies — Panasonic, for example — have started using it. LG also sells display technology for nurse’s stations and optical storage devices.

Dell(ving) into Healthcare and Life Science
Known more for its horizontal marketing than industry-specific marketing, Dell Computer brought in a new VP and GM — Jamie Coffin — in February 2007 to lead Dell Healthcare and Life Sciences. “We’ve had a very large health care business for the last 10-12 years primarily focused on the provider space,” says Coffin. “In the interview process with Michael (Dell), I’ve convinced him, I think, that the way to look at the health care space is that it’s obviously a very large ecosystem and if you don’t understand the rest of the ecosystem very well, it’s difficult to grow the business.”

Growing that business is now Coffin’s job. He says the first thing they did was consolidate accounts, then double the size of the team that was covering the health care space. As it turns out, much of that translates into targeting pharma, biotech, and medical device manufacturers as Dell already has strength in the hospital marketplace. He brought in senior people including hires from Applied Biosystems and from IBM’s Health and Life Sciences group where Coffin worked for 14 years.

One hire, Scott Jenkins from ABI, has been charged with recruiting more partners around which Dell can help build solutions. Infotainment in the hospital room is one activity Dell believes will grow, and during HIMSS Dell announced a relationship with GetWellNetwork which provides such turnkey systems. Of course, Dell was showing a full range of computers as well.

Harris Takes the Health Care Plunge
$4.2-billion defense giant Harris, whose sophisticated imaging and high-speed data communication technology powers large chunks of DoD and other U.S. intelligence agencies, is now taking aim at health care. The towering booth at HIMSS certainly suggests Harris is serious. Specifically, its systems integration arm thinks it can help health care dramatically upgrade its secure, high-speed voice and data communications.

Such a system’s high cost might seem off-putting to many, but Harris says it is willing to explore gain sharing arrangements much as it does with the FAA. The defense contractor is also gearing to help the U.S. Census Bureau dump its paper-based system for an electronic system when conducting the 2010 census. Harris says it has already captured detailed images into a geographic information system and is preparing a tablet-based architecture for use.

The ability to view and manipulate high-definition images, such as digital pathology samples, at file sizes 1,000 times larger than what’s possible today would be very useful, likewise, sharing terabyte-size images with specialists across the globe in real-time to collaborate and make quicker and more informed decisions about treatment. It will be interesting to watch how Harris fares.

InterSystems Growth Continues
Integration platform supplier InterSystems shows no sign of slowing growth. Revenue grew to around $230 million in 2007 from $200 million in 2006. Systems have been deployed in 99 countries, and InterSystems has offices in 22 countries. The key products, of course, are Ensemble (integration tool suite) and CACHE (popular database).

Paul Grabscheid, VP of strategic planning, says both interest and sales have been strong outside the United States as health care systems abroad grapple with the same kinds of cost pressures the U.S. faces, and attempt to us IT to build connected systems that increase efficiency and wring out cost, including looking at P4P programs. InterSystems has worked with U.S. RHIOs, where Grabscheid says it is sometimes difficult to achieve the necessary consensus on key architecture issues.

Much of InterSystems’ success has come through partners such as traditional consulting and ISV organizations or even user organizations such as hospitals. InterSystems has roughly 1200 partners who account for perhaps 80 percent of its sales.

Panasonic’s Tough Guy Image
Remember FedEx’s “when it absolutely must get there” mantra? Panasonic’s counterpart is “when it absolutely can’t break.” Actually, Panasonic’s well-known Toughbook line of computers and devices are offered in a range of crash-proof-ness. The company contends that most PCs have a 23 percent failure rate, most willingly addressed by manufactures but that’s still time, and sometimes data, lost.

Panasonic’s rate is just 2 to 5 percent, say a spokesman. Of course you’ll pay a premium, which they say runs $200 to $300 per machine. Among the many computers being shown at HIMSS was the T7, Panasonic’s latest durable lightweight launched in 2008. Interestingly, Panasonic refreshes its line once a year, eschewing the temptation to put out a new version with each new improved chipset. That continuity helps keep failure rates down, and the company’s commitment to a 3-year warranty.

Cisco Gives a Virtual Tour
Not surprisingly, Cisco showcased all things connective at HIMSS. Its general strategy is to go to market through partners who create health care solutions and many populated the Cisco booth. IP-based communications, remote consulting, and Motion Computing’s handheld equipped with the latest Cisco extension were all present.

Perhaps the most interesting demonstration was the creation of a virtual hospital — Palomar Pomerado Health Virtual Hospital, being hosted on Second Life. The real hospital, scheduled for completion in 2011 and at a giant cost, is planned to be the most complete digital hospital to date, replete with sophisticated robotics and the latest informatics. The virtual hospital is actually an interactive tool helping the real users — doctors and administrators — assist the facility’s designers. You virtually stroll through the hospital and certainly gain a feel for workflow and station placement.

Motorola’s Mobility Enterprise Unit Expands
Last year, Motorola was still incorporating the recently-acquired Symbol Technologies and the HIMSS booth had a hybrid feel and with fairly slim exhibit staff. This year, it was all Motorola and all about branding with plenty of support people. Seventy percent of sales are through partners.

Motorola now claims it has built the only complete end-to-end mobility solution through its expertise in the mobile computing, bar code scanning, RFID, and wireless spaces. As the health care industry is increasing its interest in wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, VoWi-Fi, real-time locationing, RFID for asset tracking, and mobile computers and scanners, Motorola is focused on understanding the industry’s needs for mobility.

Certainly RTL asset tracking for health care has received much exposure in the past few years. Yet so far, sales in that area have been modest, but one intriguing application touted by the Motorola folks could be a substantial money saver. Expensive devices — digital thermometers and glucose meters, for example — are often dropped in beds and later inadvertently destroyed in the laundry. Motorola is selling a system in which passive tags are placed on these devices and laundry carts move past a scanner before contents are washed.

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