HIMSS18 Recap: Preparing for the Next Marathon

Marathon runners during a race

Attending a HIMSS Global Conference & Exhibition is a lot like running a marathon. There are a few months of preparation, a few days of nervous anticipation, a burst of nonstop activity once the event commences, a need to remain properly hydrated and a very real possibility that you’ll hit a wall about two-thirds of the way through.

There is also at least a week of necessary recovery time once everything wraps up. As your life (slowly) returns to normal, the moment that encapsulates the entire experience sticks in your memory. This takeaway kicks off your conversations and reminds you why you embark on these crazy endeavors in the first place.

At HIMSS18, for me, it was one education session: The Value of Behavior Science for Effective Patient Engagement. Each speaker emphasized the need to apply the principles of behavior science to digital health application design and development. Without understanding what patients and their caregivers want, and what will bring the most value to them, efforts to build apps to help patients manage their own health and wellness are sadly bound to fail.

The entire session spoke to me; ensuring that patient-facing technology actually meets the needs of patients drives my work as an analyst. But one statement in particular stood out, as it illustrated how many factors can influence the success or failure of digital health interventions.

(In my haste to Tweet, I neglected to attribute the comments to Heather Cole-Lewis, director of behavior science for Johnson & Johnson. I also neglected, somewhat embarrassingly, to mention that Cole-Lewis did in fact recommend looking at the baby. Keep this in mind the next time you need a sitter.)

Here are my other major takeaways from HIMSS18 – as well as the main challenges that I see to achieving further progress toward the goal that each takeaway offers.

Takeaway #1: Patient Engagement is Beginning to Mature

The preconference Patient Engagement & Experience Summit offered several case studies of hospitals and health systems using various types of technology to improve the patient experience.

  • An enterprise data warehouse exists that brings together claims and billing data, public health information, and records from multiple electronic health record (EHR) systems. This enables engagements that are tied to the accountable care organization’s (ACO) population health management goals, such as closing care gaps or engaging community partners to address social determinants of health.
  • Health systems have implemented technology to improve data capture during rounds; also bringing in EHR data. This helps nurses better identify opportunities to improve the inpatient care experience and address problems before a patient is discharged.
  • Another health system has incorporated bidirectional messaging into its remote patient monitoring program in outpatient physical therapy for Parkinson’s patients. Analysis of the thousands of messages found that the large majority did not require a response from clinical staff.

These use cases demonstrated that patient engagement is beginning to mature from a strategic goal to a tactical imperative for healthcare providers.

The challenge: Show that engagement works, both to improve patient outcomes and to achieve savings. The next step in patient engagement technology’s maturation is demonstrating clear outcomes directly tied to a provider’s reimbursements, whether through Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, ACO or Medicare Shared Savings Program models, or risk-based contracts with private payers. The aforementioned case studies did this; providers and vendors must follow suit.

Takeaway #2: The Patient Voice is Being Amplified

As patient engagement becomes more of a tactical imperative, provider organizations face a second imperative: Listen to patients. Without understanding their wants and needs, and what stands in the way of realizing those wants and needs, providers will fall short of their engagement goals.

Adrienne Boissy, MD, MA, the Cleveland Clinic’s chief experience officer, helped convey this message.

More importantly, though, the patient voice has started to become part of the HIMSS agenda. For example, there was Connected Care in Real Life, a session that featured patient input on how providers can improve patient engagement and leverage patient expertise to improve care.

In addition, Amanda Greene and M. Maxwell Stroud discussed the role of the patient narrative in closing gaps in the record, both in a session and in an interview on HIMSSTV.












Finally, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma announced the MyHealthEData Initiative and Blue Button v2.0, both of which intend to emphasize patient control over how their own health data is used. HIMSS said in a statement, the initiatives are a “strong indication” of changing attitudes about patient data ownership.

The challenge: Turn this amplification into action. Can the industry finally come to a consensus about how to put data in patients’ hands in a useful and meaningful way? How will stakeholders engage with patients such as Greene – along with countless others who are unable to attend HIMSS and other industry events – who clearly deserve a seat at the table?

Takeaway #3: Together, We are Stronger

Meeting the other 19 Social Media Ambassadors inspired me. So, too, did seeing the dozens who gathered for meetups. Fellow Social Media Ambassador Colin Hung captured some of the crowds.

These gatherings inspired me because they brought together so many people who have directly and indirectly helped inform and impact my own work over the years. Their influence taught me (and continues to teach me) the importance of reflecting the voice of patients and caregivers in my writing and research, and for that I am grateful.

More broadly, seeing these gatherings affirmed the size and strength of the community advocating for better health IT. The community is strong because it is greater than the sum of its individuals – and because those individuals know and accept that they grow personally and professionally only by listening to and learning from those with diverse experiences and viewpoints.

The challenge: Increase the inclusiveness of the community. How do we engage with those who cannot be physically present, who have been left behind by the digital divide, or who have been previously ignored or even ostracized? As we craft strategies to improve these engagements, what language are we using – and can our language be more inclusive?

Rising Up to the Challenge

Another similarity between attending HIMSS and running marathons is turning the challenges that you faced in a race into opportunities to do better. Veteran runners alter training programs, pre-race routines, mid-race strategies and even their choice of attire based on the results of a marathon. Making these alterations is a challenge – runners arguably crave routine more than anything else (even bagels) – but it brings long-term benefits.

For HIMSS18 attendees, I offer the following opportunities based on the challenges discussed above.

  • Look for demonstrated results. Gone are the days when digital health companies can simply claim “disrupt healthcare” as a value proposition. Particularly with patient engagement products, it is important to see published results that demonstrate at least one of three things: Improved patient outcomes, cost savings or increased revenue, and improved quality metrics.
  • Include patients in your conversations. Before beginning any health IT initiative, engage a diverse group of patients, take their feedback seriously, and compensate them fairly for their time and input. Consider ways to incorporate the patient voice into your next HIMSS experience, whether through sponsored attendance, speaking opportunities, or broader virtual engagement with patients not in attendance.
  • Continue building your community. Follow up with the new connections you made at HIMSS18. Sign up for their newsletters or webinars; seek them out at regional HIMSS events or other conferences. Learn from them – and offer them the opportunity to learn from you. Participate in Twitter chats or attend networking events that fall outside your normal area of expertise but otherwise pique your interest.

I look forward to helping us all make these opportunities happen in my role as a HIMSS Social Media Ambassador for the rest of 2018. Sure, it won’t happen overnight, but fortunately, I have some experience preparing for slow and steady races.

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.












Watch Brian Eastwood talk with HIMSSTV about why patient engagement is now a key driver for healthcare.