My 3 Key Takeaways from HIMSS23

HIMSS23 busy hall

It’s no secret that technology holds tremendous potential to transform healthcare and improve patient outcomes. In April, over 40,000 global health professionals converged in Chicago for the highly anticipated HIMSS23 Global Health Conference & Exhibition to discuss the current innovations and solutions industry can offer healthcare. Artificial intelligence (AI) has quickly moved to the forefront within the general public through offerings like ChatGPT and has generated conversations on how these tools can be applied other places. AI is already being used to support clinicians and healthcare providers, and leaders at HIMSS23 explored additional ways the technology can make a difference. For cutting-edge technologies to reach their full potential, however, proper foundation must be laid. This means considering everything from data standards to health equity. All of these topics came up for discussion at HIMSS23, but ultimately the event revolved around three main takeaways.

1. It all starts with interoperability

Data-sharing was top-of-mind at the conference. But many barriers exist to data sharing because data comes from different systems, in different formats and organized under different schemas. For healthcare to truly be data-driven, institutions need to have the right technology, standards and culture in place.

On a panel, Dr. Don Kosiak, the Chief Medical Officer at Leidos, said he reached out to a medical institution to obtain a recent MRI scan of one of his patients and the information he needed was on page 142 of 250 pages. The data was shared but streamlining the process and narrowing down the data would have improved efficiency. This example speaks to the cultural shift that needs to occur within healthcare to enable everyone who has an interaction with a patient to both capture the necessary data and leverage technology as effectively as possible.

Participants from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) described how next-generation database access control can facilitate data-sharing without moving large volumes of data. This ensures interoperability and preserves distinct local protection policies. By improving access to clinical data across institutions and promoting secure collaboration, new therapies can be discovered, medical costs can be lowered, and patient care can be improved.

Panelists from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) discussed their strategy for interoperability, such as the use of new Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) whose foundation ultimately is standardization. Whether talking about prior authorization, price transparency or patient access, adhering to the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard is crucial. Across the board, developing standards within the healthcare space is essential because it allows medical administrators to allocate resources to fund programs, rather than spend on building out siloed systems.

2. Patients have a right to privacy and security

A highlight of the conference was seeing how far medical devices have come with regards to connectivity. There needs to be standards here as well, particularly regarding cybersecurity. To that end, the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEEE) has created a working group for the clinical Internet of Things (IoT), which will create a framework with TIPPSS principles — an acronym for trust, identity, privacy, protection, safety and security.

A continuous glucose monitor that connects to the internet and patient portal, for example, could put all patient data at risk if the device is compromised. According to HIMSS23 panelists, the goal is to make TIPPSS a given in devices, chips, solutions, standards, deployment and pricing. Ideally, it will become the standard for clinical IoT first, then for other solutions.

Privacy was a common theme at the conference as well. AI must be trained on large amounts of data which often have differing privacy regulations, depending on whether it is being used for research or healthcare operations. Users must ensure they are complying with federal law restricting release of medical information and getting patient consent when necessary. Google’s Project Nightingale highlights these challenges, as it has been collecting and analyzing millions of people’s private health information to build health-focused AI.

3. Health equity cannot be overlooked

A big consideration for healthcare technology is health equity. At HIMSS23, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) outlined some vital principles, drawing on its core function to ensure that health equity is foundational in the design and implementation of health information technology (IT) systems across the country.

A key component of health equity is acknowledging that social inequities, institutional inequities and living conditions — referred to as social determinants of health (SDOH) — impact patient outcomes. Using addresses to track patients is an example of a deployment that does not take health equity into consideration, as it excludes those experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness.

The promise of connected health devices highlights the digital divide; and broadband and telemedicine access must be available to all. By identifying and gathering structured SDOH data, researchers and government officials can better find where inequities exist and create new tech solutions to achieve improved results.

These discussions, networking opportunities and technology demos at HIMSS23 showcased exciting new healthcare technologies. It reminded us attendees that we must lay the proper foundation to make the most of interoperability, security and equity.