Brian E. Dixon, MPA, PhD, FHIMSS, assistant professor, department of BioHealth Informatics, School of Informatics and Computing and Indiana University research scientist, Center for Biomedical Informatics in Indianapolis, Ind., is the chair of the HIMSS Annual Conference Education Committee (ACEC).
Dixon’s research focuses on developing and evaluating processes and information technologies that provide more comprehensive knowledge about patients and populations to improve decision-making and outcomes. His research includes leveraging health information exchange (HIE) to enable and support the secondary use of clinical and administrative data to improve public health.
Prior to his current roles, Dixon managed numerous research projects at Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis, Ind., and contributed to the development of several health information systems and applications, including the clinical vocabulary LOINC and tools for querying large clinical data repositories.
HIMSS: How did you become involved with HIMSS?
Dixon: I was working as a project manager for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) National Resource Center for Health IT. Joy Keeler, the program director at the time, was involved with HIMSS. She encouraged me to apply my talents not only to our day-to-day work, but also, our profession. Keeler strongly believed HIMSS would provide me with unique opportunities that other professional organizations in health IT could not. She was right.
HIMSS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement with HIMSS?
Dixon: The most rewarding activity in my involvement with HIMSS is my time serving on the ACEC, and in particular, my experience as chair of the ACEC. The annual conference is a focal point for many HIMSS members, and sometimes, it is the only exposure to HIMSS by non-members. It has been truly rewarding to hear so many positive things from HIMSS attendees about the education that goes on at the conference. The entire committee works hard to ensure the education sessions are free of bias and full of practical lessons attendees can take back to their organizations. It was a pleasure working with the committee to bring everything together for attendees. Personally, I learned a lot about event planning, the HIMSS staff, and the amazing talents that exist among the HIMSS membership. I also had a chance to read a lot of proposals for sessions I could not attend.
HIMSS: What was the greatest challenge involved with planning this year’s conference? What do you think the greatest success was?
Dixon: The greatest challenge is choosing a final set of presentations, given the number of good submissions. We try to make sure that all of the topic categories in the call for submissions have representation on the final program, which means some good submissions have to be declined. This is hard to do, because we naturally want to accept all of the good proposals, even if it means we might end up with too many HIE sessions, for example. Our success comes when we have a balanced program that contains really good sessions in the diverse array of topics for which attendees are interested. I think we were successful in putting together a program that had good sessions on HIE, care coordination, EHR implementation, clinical decision support, usability, mobile devices, privacy/security, and remote monitoring, to name a few. Several attendees told me that they had a hard time choosing between the wide variety of sessions that “looked interesting” or “looked good” to them; that is a sign that the ACEC has done its job well.
HIMSS: Please give a few highlights from HIMSS14.
Dixon: The keynote address from Secretary Clinton was really inspiring, and gives me renewed hope that our collective efforts will transform healthcare in the U.S. I also attended a wide variety of education sessions, including practical talks on how to create sustainability for HIEs, and how to enable sharing of mental health data to improve care coordination. There were many more sessions on the agenda in 2014 related to care coordination, given the changing payment landscape and greater emphasis on medical home models. I also noticed that nearly every session addressed an important question that is often the white elephant in the room: What value does health IT bring to healthcare organizations? Presenters took time to not only describe innovations, trends, and case studies, but also, speak to, and in many cases provide data demonstrating, the value that health IT was delivering to their local stakeholders. This was wonderful, and it is something the ACEC would like to see presenters in the future also focus on, as we collectively strive to build a robust evidence base for the use of IT in transforming healthcare.
Some other notes: Sessions from Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), and other federal agencies highlighted growing adoption and use of a variety of key technologies, including Blue Button, the eHealth Exchange, and the virtual medical record (vMR). Patient engagement was much more visible this year; not only in education sessions, but also, on the show floor, where a variety of vendors and patient advocacy groups demonstrated innovations.
HIMSS: What was the most unique aspect of this year’s conference?
Dixon: This year the conference featured two new educational venues worth noting. The first was the YourTurn sessions. In these sessions, attendees submitted ideas on current topics they wanted to discuss in a small group of people also interested in that topic. They submitted topic ideas a few weeks before the conference, and we selected a half dozen that looked really interesting. The submitters then facilitated discussion. These sessions had small but engaged dialogue on how to develop and deploy innovative technologies to improve EHR systems, coordination of care, and decision support. We plan to offer these next year, and I encourage people to try and attend one.
The other unique aspect of this year’s conference included the presentation venues in the exhibit hall, such as the Connected Patient Learning Gallery. In these spaces, vendors and advocates for health IT discussed cutting-edge products, services, and trends. I observed a few of these, and they were terrific. These kinds of sessions offer a different, unique style of learning than what attendees will find in a regular education session. I also hope more people will take a few minutes while roaming the show floor next year to check out one or two of these sessions. I think they will find them of use, as they think about the kinds of technologies and solutions available in the marketplace.
HIMSS: How would you recommend attendees continue the conversation now that conference is over?
Dixon: Conversations should definitely extend beyond the annual conference. I have three suggestions for HIMSS members. 1) Sign up for a HIMSS committee that is working on the issues you are passionate about; 2) Get involved with your local HIMSS chapter to discuss how you can take what you learned at the conference and apply it in your backyard (think global, act local); and 3) Leverage available social media platforms, such as Twitter, to find others who are interested in continuing the discussion.
HIMSS: What advice would you give professionals just entering the healthcare or IT field?
Dixon: Given the fast pace of technology and shifting healthcare landscape, health IT professionals must continue to learn. Make a list of three or four education goals each year so that you don’t become overwhelmed with the variety of options for continued education. One of those might be the HIMSS conference, but other things might be local or regional events as well as one or more webinars. Following the event, share what you’ve learned with your colleagues and discuss how you can apply it within your organization. This might take the form of a pilot project, which could generate some evidence or value that leads to a larger quality improvement project or new product. This will help you learn more about your organization, and it can lead to professional advancement.