Last week, Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) members and healthcare professionals—from CIOs and senior executives, providers and payers to IT consultants and entrepreneurs—gathered at the annual HIMSS conference to glean insights into the year to come for digital health.
What greeted them at this premier Health IT
conference looked a lot different than prior years. The recent rise of COVID-19
cases foreshadowed the weeklong event, offering another distressing moment in
the pandemic best described as a clash between the desire for normalcy and
imperative for caution.
if there was ever a time for tech innovation to play an even more pivotal role
in healthcare, that time is now. That’s what made this gathering of great minds
within this industry so essential this year. Here are those important takeaways
we captured from HIMSS21.
Preserving the health of a population—such as the global population during a pandemic—requires a true sense of collaboration and cooperation among nations, their citizens and leadership, with decisions grounded in scientific facts. Best said by HIMSS President and CEO Hal Wolf, “Our call to action has never been louder or had a greater need than right now…We all become part of one society to impact the global health ecosystem.”
Wolf touched on the global
issues facing healthcare systems—including an aging population, a lack of
actionable information, cybersecurity threats, staff shortages and shifting
consumer expectations—which have only become more complicated by the
politicization of the pandemic, now worsened by the Delta variant.
Yet, the answers will
always lie in digital health. COVID-19 sped up many things in the healthcare
industry and there’s no turning back from it now. “Typically, [the
industry moves] at a glacial pace as we look to begin using new technologies
and solutions,” said Dr. Andrew W. Burchett, chief medical information
officer at Avera Health. “With the pandemic, we were able to rapidly
virtualize our care environments, continue to provide excellent care to our
patients and keep our staff working.”
HIMSS21 attendees looking for optimism around cybersecurity were swiftly met with a dose of realism and disappointment. “Anyone looking for good news and encouragement about the current cyberthreat landscape still has time to leave the room,” Errol Weiss, chief security officer at H-ISAC, jokingly warned.
Ransomware rampantly ripped through the
healthcare industry, and evidence shows that it will continue to worsen. A
distressing study found that more than one-third of health organizations were
hit by ransomware last year, and 65% said the cybercriminals were successful in
encrypting their data.1 As long as there is money in this business,
the bad guys will always be on the prowl.
Cybercriminals are continuously becoming more
sophisticated. There are fears that they’ll evolve into committing AI-based
attacks. But the real challenge with ransomware attacks is that security
practices in healthcare still generally aren’t keeping pace with the speed of
these new and sinister developments.
This leaves a heated debate open around what
organizations must do when (not if) they are held at whim by cybercriminals.
“The goal of your organization is to protect lives and humans…You need to
get systems up and running. You need to save lives,” said Michael Coates,
co-founder and CEO of Altitude Network. His advice is that if you are not in a
“stick ‘em up” situation today, “use that breathing room to figure out a
plan of attack beforehand.” That’s why healthcare organizations are
embracing the latest healthcare-enabling technologies, like
SD-WAN, to provide a secure, reliable foundation against cybercrime.
In order to support consumers and patient
expectations, the healthcare ecosystem would benefit from accelerating the
technologies that make the industry more personal and convenient, increasing
transparency and providing omnichannel methods that reach patients when and how
COVID acted as a powerful catalyst for
adopting innovative solutions. Virtual consults and immediate access via
telehealth accelerated digital healthcare in a short period of time. Tech is
responsible for creating better experiences by offering meaningful engagement
with patients at their desired level of connectivity.
Health systems that haven’t adopted some level of digital health tools are undoubtedly falling behind. Windstream Enterprise customer Appalachian Regional Healthcare is looked at as a success story. They embraced modern connectivity solutions to increase bandwidth and reliability while greatly reducing network outages amongst their 100+ hospitals and clinics. The industry must keep a foot on the pedal to remain innovative.
HIMSS21 stage, Cris Ross, CIO at Mayo Clinic, spoke about their journey to stay
connected last year. Without the pandemic, Cris admitted it would’ve taken
years to accomplish the level of communications and to support the decision to
send 20,000 of their employees to work from home. “Instead, we figured out how
to deploy Microsoft Teams for collaboration. We don’t want to take unnecessary
risks, but we proved we could be agile and quick.”
Collaboration is not simply taking in-office tools home; rather, it’s the practice of organizations and employees embracing new ways of working. Video collaboration allowed for this while assisting with widespread hiring and telehealth efforts. Touchless check-ins, texting and technology that limits time spent in the waiting room are just the beginning of collaborative technology in the new normal for medical care.
Each year, HIMSS digs deeper into the use of
machine learning and AI to improve care and explores how implementing and
integrating data and analytics fits into real-world applications. AI provides
limitless insights into data to show what’s actually making an impact and
what’s wasting money. AI succeeds where there is a culture of innovation. It
also acts as the perfect complement to storytelling and tapping into the heart
and soul of healthcare. “Data can change minds, and stories can change hearts,”
said Vikas Chowdhry, the chief analytics and information officer at the
Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation.
every trend, panel and presentation coming out of HIMSS21 was that the key for
modern health IT environments is agility, flexibility and scalability. We are
far from out of the woods with this pandemic, and it won’t be the last
challenge the healthcare industry faces. Having
the right solutions in place to support these things will determine
who thrives or barely survives the next crisis.
While the tone remains serious around healthcare,
there is light and positivity to be found around each corner. “There is
nothing like a good disaster to bring people together in a different way,”
said Lindsay-Wood, the vice president and chief information officer of Moffitt
Cancer Center. “It’s exhilarating to see teams that don’t usually spend
time together creating solutions to address an urgent need.”
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