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It Looks Like the Head of HIMSS Likes Us

by Jonathan Bush, President & CEO

The headline said that the chief of HIMSS sees “seismic shifts” in the health IT landscape.

I sure hope so because I’m betting on it.

As many of our employees know, HIMSS is a massively important leader in our space, and their annual conference—this year it was held in Orlando and set an attendance record of over 30,000 people and 1,000 vendors—is our chance to feel small and uninvited. It is a club of large vendors and large buyers. Very large deals, you might say ‘seismic’ deals, requiring long-term multimillion dollar commitments in EHR and practice management systems, go down at the HIMSS conventions.

Obviously, our consistent criticism has been that the balance sheet impact of such investments is not sustainable by any health care institution for long, BUT ALSO, the information that comes from such investment…well…sucks.

It doesn’t suck because the IT departments that buy and run these EHR and practice management systems are bad (they may or may not be, I have no idea, but that isn’t the problem). It isn’t because the systems being purchased don’t work as advertised (I have no idea if they do, but I assume the answer is ‘yes’).

The biggest problem is that there is no value to the information managed because it all exists in a series of vacuums.

I just visited a company that does pre-certification work for hospitals. Even though they have an amazing web-app that does much of the work, they often find themselves having to log-in and TYPE the info for each hospital’s different system in order to make it “harmonize” with the way data is being managed locally.

It was never surprising to me that this kind of thing happened, since the dominant approach to managing information in health care is for each different provider to buy giant, static computer systems and then endeavor to only treat that patient inside of the “system.”

Then, much to my surprise, I was reading Neil Versel (a personal favorite blogger) and saw a break in the iron curtain. The chairman of HIMSS—none other than H. Stephen Lieber himself—said, “It really is about the information and NOT the technology.” (I also liked this part: “The greatest failures in technology are always when you don't address workflow and process change.”)

He said this at the IBM Healthcare Leadership exchange in Chicago last week where they know a thing or two about standalone giant servers! This is a major step on a very slippery slope for an institution built on the construction of separate information islands.

Who knows, maybe the makers of manners are climbing in. Come on in guys, the water’s GREAT!

Jonathan Bush is the President and CEO of athenahealth.

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