HIMSS17: The Evolution of Healthcare - The Missing Links CAN be Found


Information Technology AND Healthcare? Why on Earth would you combine such incompatible career fields?

I can’t tell you how many times I was questioned about this in my past. Early on in my career, no one ever told me that my early pursuits of combining my Computer Operations training in the Air Force with my decision to pursue medicine was actually a good idea. In fact, it was quite the opposite. And yet - this year I can give about 45,000 more reasons (the number of attendees at HIMSS 2017 [1]) on why the path led to a promising merging career field after all.

The “missing link” career - people divided by a common career field.

Jokingly, I like to tell my friends and colleagues that I play the role of the “missing link”. Not just because I have lovely paleontologist friends and enjoy talented comedians like Will Arnett voice animated characters, although I admit, this certainly adds to the enjoyment of saying it. But rather, it signifies the importance of understanding and having the capability to translate between two very different expertise levels of those that are purely computer science or clinical centric. I find that more often than not just because you may work in the realm of healthcare informatics does not mean you understand the needs of those in the same general or complimentary “career fields”. For example, if a physician asks for evidence of possibly missed cases of pneumonia on chest x-ray reports - it’s really no fault of the data scientists they miss very obvious clinical clues such as lobar consolidation - they need to be directed to look for it. To be fair, conversely, I can’t personally say I know many physicians I would trust to write successful SQL queries to get data from the clinical warehouse.

What was the meteorite that caused this data crater, and how do we get to the other side?

Keeping with the above theme - the data crater - was due to the encroaching world of information technology on healthcare in the 1960s. This is when the invention of the Electronic Health Records (which started off as clinical information systems) was born [2]. Since then, we have been consumed by all things data, which is evident by the number of annual attendees at HIMSS. So, how do we get to the other side of the crater? Walk around or build a dependable bridge. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a physician’s IT executive symposium prior to my attendance of HIMSS 2017 [3] - the Association of Medical Directors Information Systems (AMDIS), an organization comprised of such dependable bridges. Fortunately beforehand, I paid close attention to the advise on the AMDIS forum for all us newbies attending HIMSS 2017- wear comfortable shoes! The mere size of HIMSS contributed to the overall awe and wonder - the exhibit hall alone was greater than 500,000 sq ft.

Take home messages from HIMSS17 - the colossal event on planet healthcare.

As predicted, I as well as others, came home with a wealth of new knowledge (and an upper respiratory virus of unknown pandemic origins). Overall, the annual event lives up to its reputation: a place for answers for your healthcare data problems / concerns and a place where people can possibly leave with twice as many questions as they had answers. I can say we generally all left having had riveting (sometimes slightly heated) conversations; and a new buzz of excitement for future work and possible solutions ahead. I especially appreciated those solutions obtained by partnering - which only proves the point you can’t be an expert on everything. Following this tone - Regis Charlot (President and CTO of Intelligent Medical Objects) was kind enough to personally demonstrate how Linguamatics I2E has been integrated into the IMO clinical terminology and technology using I2E AMP.

Although I feel in some areas, we “just haven’t gotten there yet”, every day we get closer to finding more solutions, to more complicated questions / tasks in healthcare informatics. It really helps having those “missing-links” strategically placed in hospitals, insurance providers, government agencies, pharma and biotech companies and of course not to exclude my home - healthcare informatics solution vendors. This strategic placement allows us to speak the same language and form alliances for our mutual goal - to assist clinicians to make informative decisions - not to replace them. After all, we are all patients. In technology, often the easier something appears to the user - the more complicated the hidden work and algorithms are.

For now, the only way to get a simple answer or solution is to ask a simple question.

And really, how simple is healthcare?

1.     HIMSS17. In: HIMSS17 [Internet]. [cited 28 Feb 2017]. Available: http://www.himssconference.org/

2.     Atherton J. Development of the electronic health record. Virtual Mentor. 2011;13: 186–189.

3.     AMDIS/HIMSS Physicians’ Executive IT Symposium: Unlocking Value and Embracing Change. In: HIMSS17 [Internet]. 10 Nov 2016 [cited 8 Mar 2017]. Available: http://www.himssconference.org/education/specialty-programs/preconference-symposia/amdishimss-physicians-it