Did #HIMSS18 Talk About Mental Health?

Conversations about mental health at HIMSS18

Prior to the HIMSS18 Global Conference & Exhibition, I had a chance to write a guest post about what I was going to be paying attention to as a social media ambassador. Attending HIMSS18 provided a wonderful opportunity to report on the latest in mental health, substance abuse and care coordination technology.

My anticipation of HIMSS18 was immense curiosity and more questions than answers, and so it was wonderful to attend presentations and network with people about the complexities of introducing mental health and substance abuse information into the electronic health record. Equally as wonderful were the people attempting to better understand these barriers and overcome them, so health IT can drive further efforts on issues like the opioid crisis and suicide.

Barriers and Opportunities Within Opioid Care

It was refreshing to see the amount of sessions dedicated to tackling the opioid crisis. Sadly, I could not catch them all, but it was encouraging to see people engaged in solutions. On the clinical level, the barrier is the dreaded 42 CFR Part 2 regulation requiring a unique release to electronically share substance abuse information. This can often be a barrier to exchanging information between two providers, let alone several.

It was encouraging to see a health information exchange in Colorado intentionally provide information to patients about their rights, including substance abuse and mental health information. They developed a public awareness campaign called “Choose to Share” to better address the high price for ignoring substance abuse and mental health, as illustrated by the following slides.

On the big data side, it was impressive to see how we can investigate big data to help better inform how to tackle the opioid crisis. By asking data questions (such as claims data), one is able to see where gaps in care exist…

Behavioral Science

One of the most interesting sessions was on the “Value of Behavioral Science” in designing digital health programs. Panelists talked about the need to be intentional if we want technology to activate change and how it should be thought about scientifically. Technology should not be stand-alone, but instead, it should:

  • be able to acknowledge patient preferences
  • be based on science
  • be culturally competent

Technology should also take into account available resources and not assume that technology is the key to change.

Mental Health Awareness, Assessment and Decision Support

If you were on the HIMSS18 exhibit floor, it was hard to miss the #EndTheStigma campaign one of the vendors provided.

Similar to the opioid crisis, there was frequent discussion about using population health data to drill down into mental health needs, and looking at claims and ICD-10 data to better understand the mental health challenges in your health populations.

There was also talk of using evidence-based assessments for decision support and automation of processes, such as referral as a result. One healthcare system used mental health screening as a way to automatically trigger a referral to their in-house care coordination team. Discussion also focused on the need for mental health subject matter experts on, and consulting with, health information technology teams.

Quadruple Aim

As someone who has prepared presentations on self-care and secondary trauma, this notion of the quadruple aim is critical. Putting the patient at the center of care was a crucial part of the conference; however, the changing healthcare landscape forces us to think about how we are taking care of providers. I observed two things about this.

First is the potential of automation via artificial intelligence, chat bots and machine learning to accelerate redundant tasks and decision support. This probably warrants its own blog post, but I was impressed by the amount of solutions that automate processes, such as billing, documentation and hand-off communication between providers. These technologies combine with data aggregation to take the load off providers, so “doctors can be doctors.”

Most importantly, the message was slow down and take a 10,000-foot overview on burnout and physician suicide. Janae Sharp and Melissa McCool provided an important presentation about these topics. Janae told her story of losing her husband to suicide and her mission to advance chance and address these concerns. Melissa and Janae came together to talk about the need to assess and provide decision support around this issue as well.


HIMSS President and Chief Executive Officer, Harold (Hal) Wolf III, noted at the press event (paraphrasing here), “HIMSS has become more than just a health information technology conference.” I lack the historical perspective, but I did get a positive multidisciplinary feel from the conference.

We have to get out of our silos and echo chambers. There is no reason why social workers, doctors, nurses, developers, chief medical information officers and marketers cannot sit at the same table to solve our biggest problems.

By taking a deeper dive into mental health and substance abuse topics addressed at the conference, I found that HIMSS is more than just a health and technology conference. It is a place to problem solve, collaborate and challenge ourselves. My hope is that spirit can be carried all year long, especially with mental health and substance use disorders.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.