HIMSS 2017 Recap: Themes, Trends, and Surprising Moments


Every year, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) hosts one of the largest health technology focused conferences for healthcare professionals and this year, over 40,000 of the “Brightest Minds in Health and IT” met in Orlando, FL.

Below are my observations about both the main conference and surrounding events, including what I learned and what I was surprised by:

1. Connected Health Reigned Supreme.

Connected health is the process of integrating patient experience with connected devices, and it was certainly the topic of discussion in most sessions at HIMSS this year. People had a lot of questions: Are we there yet? Are people educated enough? I saw hundreds of tools and apps, but ultimately, I left thinking that we still have a ways to go when it comes to integrating devices into the patient and provider experience seamlessly. Our whole lives are digitally enabled, but healthcare is lagging behind the digital needs of those either giving or receiving care.

2. Patient Experience: It’s 2017 and it’s STILL Siloed.

“Patient experience” dominated the speaking agendas and the show floor. Many providers and vendors talked about improving engagement and care delivery, taking their cues from service industries like hospitality and retail to deliver more data-driven approaches to the patient experience.  

While I look forward to that future state, it was clear to me that much work still lies ahead. While there may be more digitally enabled tools and systems available to deliver care, I observed that very few of them are working in relation to each other. I was disappointed to see that most of the systems, apps and devices at HIMSS missed a crucial mark: contextual integration. We need to tie our knowledge together and use big data in more intelligent ways to anticipate the care needs of patients and deliver truly personalized experiences.

3. Are We Innovating with Value-Based Care in Mind?

Every time an innovator takes cost-lowering solutions to the CFO of his or her healthcare organization, the CFO is likely to say, “I don’t want to do that if it’s not associated with a billing code.”  Innovation, at times, can be seen in a strange light – difficult to justify in the short term, and lowering overall revenue or net operating cost. Even so, cost reduction through innovation is a hot topic at healthcare conferences and this year’s HIMSS was no different. However, tech suppliers and vendors still aren’t getting the picture – very few are building their business case and how their solutions drive both better health outcomes and build new services/revenue.  

4. Precision Medicine for All?

It’s been 2 years since the announcement of the Precision Medicine Initiative and the promise of improving outcomes and reducing costs through targeted, data-driven, personalized therapies has never been greater. Curiously though, there were just a few invite-only genomics sessions, occurring mostly behind the scenes. I found this odd, because we know many hospitals are looking to genomics as a new service line, one which will bring them both prominence and revenue. This may be because the business of genomics is early stage and highly complex – from the science to the lab analysis to drug matching and applicability for the individual, the technology still has a long way to go (never mind the impact of future knowledge and how you, as an individual, will most likely need coaching to understand and apply this knowledge). Genomics is a bright spot on the future of health, I am hoping that by this time next year, genomics and precision medicine will be more in the forefront – with new case studies, new business opportunities and more healthcare industries getting connected with its potential.

5. Marketing is King…But What’s the Real Story?

Interestingly, much of the progress being made in patient experience and connected health is directly tied to marketing activity – sending out surveys, engaging with patients, asking patients what they liked and didn’t like, and encouraging them to reach certain goals. Innovative organizations like Partners and Geisinger are even trying new models in anticipating the patient experience as they walk in the door. It’s exciting times as we think these types of developments, but while front office marketing folks are talking a big game about in-house systems for patient engagement and enrichment, the reality is a lot less sparkly. A number of mid-level hospital employees tasked with patient centricity told me that their work is a lot more rudimentary and less technology-based than their innovation colleagues would have you believe. There is a huge gap here between perception in the marketplace and actual delivery, and in order for the innovation vision of these organizations to be realized, new models of agile, cross-functional stakeholder engagement must be considered.   

6. Lots of Noise, Very Few Signals.

With a new administration in office and new levels of debate about healthcare in America,  HIMSS felt different than in years past. Healthcare feels very divided, and I observed lot of strong opinions both in larger sessions and in 1-1 conversations. During the final day of the event, former Speaker of the House John Boehner took many by surprise when he suggested that the ACA wouldn’t disappear, but clearly others are calling for its demise. I left the event with the sense that progress in healthcare innovation is likely going to muddied for a while as we work out our divisions, our points of convergence and eventually legislation. But for now, HIMSS is reflecting what we see in our daily news feeds: lots of noise, strikingly few clear signals.

While my observations may seem to run a little more skeptical than most, I always marvel at the depth of expertise and passion of the attendees of HIMSS. People everywhere were talking about the new frontiers of healthcare and most importantly, how to keep patients at the center of it all – and that was encouraging. While the event’s large size and the current political climate certainly led it to feel disjointed and siloed, at Medullan we know our clients are the ones pushing hard to connect the dots in this ecosystem every day. Being able to help them accelerate their vision and make a positive impact on those they serve is what keeps us going in 2017 and beyond.

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