Patient safety, terror protection top HIMSS topics

February 26, 2004

The specter of bioterrorism is haunting major medical meetings. One session this week provided a glimpse of initiatives under way by the HIMSS National Preparedness Response Task Force. Another explained how the Health Resources and Services

The specter of bioterrorism is haunting major medical meetings.

One session this week provided a glimpse of initiatives under way by the HIMSS National Preparedness Response Task Force. Another explained how the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Homeland Security are collaborating on bioterrorism preparedness.

Uniformed police with leashed explosives-sniffing dogs could be found lurking throughout the conference all week, constant reminders that things have changed.

Other things are changing in less alarming fashion. Handwringing about HIPAA security seems to be subsiding as compliance deadlines approach and pass. Still, 16 sessions worrying over the issue were held.

The tone of the meeting was clearly patient safety. Nineteen education sessions dealt directly with patient safety. Another 25 were devoted to how the electronic medical record, computerized physician order entry, and PDAs can help get us from there to here.

The interoperability potential of these systems was showcased prominently at the IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise) and HL7 (Health Level Seven) exhibit, where unprecedented live theater demonstrations highlighted the importance of IT standards in healthcare. Twenty-four companies participated in the IHE demo.

Seven sessions offered road maps through the outsourcing mine field. Outsourcing of IT functions to a single entity is seen as an attractive bottom line alternative for institutions unwilling to invest heavily in the resources and expertise necessary to support contemporary network infrastructures.

Other topics we're likely to see more of at future HIMSS meetings include barcoding, smart cards, data mining, and data storage. How to store and properly exploit the growing reams of digital data collecting in IT departments is a major challenge.

One new idea had many talking. Software-defined radio (SDR) may be on the air soon.

An emerging technology designed to make voice and data communications easier for mobile workers, SDR creates a new breed of radios that adapt to their environment and make disparate technologies transparent to the user. This is supposed to enable healthcare workers to establish virtual private voice and data networks specific to an incident or location, regardless of their wireless devices and service providers.

Limited SDR is available now for the military, and commercial availability is expected next year.

What may be part of the next-generation PACS workstation was revealed at one session.

Microsoft's gWindows technology used in conjunction with voice command will eventually allow surgeons touchless interaction with PACS workstations. The scheme maintains the sterile field, a problem that has been difficult to solve.

Mark Morita, of GE Medical Systems, said two firewire Web cams capture surgeon hand gestures and, utilizing 802.11 technology, an ergonomic, mobile imaging workstations can be moved to where they're needed. Image viewing is then achieved using voice command and control.