Quest for integration dominates annual HIMSS event

March 8, 2006

One of the healthcare industry’s most innovative meetings took place in San Diego in February: the Health Information and Management Systems Society annual meeting and exhibition. This year’s HIMSS meeting attracted 25,740 attendees, including staff for 895 exhibitors. More healthcare chief information, technology, and operations officers as well as senior IT managers assemble at this conference than any other gathering in the world.

One of the healthcare industry's most innovative meetings took place in San Diego in February: the Health Information and Management Systems Society annual meeting and exhibition. This year's HIMSS meeting attracted 25,740 attendees, including staff for 895 exhibitors. More healthcare chief information, technology, and operations officers as well as senior IT managers assemble at this conference than any other gathering in the world.

Like diagnostic imaging, the healthcare IT industry has exploded in growth. At the first HIMSS meeting in San Diego in 1993, it was possible for the 4400 participants to attend the majority of educational sessions and be able to visit all 195 exhibit booths. Not so today.

In 1993, Cerner, HBOC, and SMS were dominant exhibitors at HIMSS. Interface engine functionality was the hot technology, expected to fuel development of Community Health Information Networks (CHINs) of the 21st century. PACS was not even a concept. In fact, the term wasn't introduced to HIMSS until 1994. At an educational session that drew fewer than 30 quizzical attendees, the appropriateness of PACS as a healthcare IT technology was questioned.

Times change, but some things remain the same. At the February event, Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIOs) replaced CHINs as the new acronym. The dominant theme of educational sessions revolved around creation of functional electronic patient records (EPRs) that are accessible throughout an enterprise. This goal plus the commitment to make this happen in the first decade of the 21st century were promoted by almost every vendor on the trade show floor.

Other terms abounded: virtual enterprise management, HIPAA, data security, and IHE interoperability. As for PACS, it has become a critical element of healthcare IT. PACS vendors first began displaying their technology at HIMSS to protect their turf from RIS and HIS companies. Life has changed. With major PACS vendors purchasing major RIS vendors and vice versa, integrated HIS/RIS/PACS are among the latest hot technologies. Interface engine vendors, once the technology stars of the show, have all but disappeared in the razzle-dazzle of brokerless integration.

HIMSS finally has Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise fever. It took more years than either the RSNA or HIMSS expected to attract participants to the IHE interoperability showcase, but in the past few years, attendance at the event has been impressive. February's IHE at HIMSS engaged more than 3000 attendees and 36 vendor participants. Informative lectures began early and filled to capacity throughout the day.

Debacles contribute to software development and new product innovation. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the need for electronic patient access. A Department of Defense exhibit at HIMSS demonstrated how the Iraq war has accelerated creation of a sophisticated enterprise-wide patient tracking system, a medical resource tracking system, and the upgrade of a clinician-driven EPR for physicians and a wellness-driven EPR for patients. The EPRs serve a constituency of more than 9.2 million individuals, clinicians, and healthcare professionals, in fixed locations and well as mobile clinics.

The DOD exhibit demonstrated what may be the most sophisticated integrated electronic medical management and patient record keeping systems in operation in the world. No HIMSS attendees queried knew that a military initiative provided the vision and the funding to make PACS commercially viable.

While PACS was well represented among vendors, coverage of the topic fell short when it came to educational offerings at HIMSS. Only three sessions focused on PACS, and one of these was a session sponsored annually by the Society for Computer Applications in Radiology. Does the constituency of HIMSS need independent educational instruction about PACS? If you think so, submit abstracts to HIMSS before the cutoff date in early May. And tell your senior IT managers to run, not walk to Austin, where SCAR's annual meeting is scheduled April 27 to 30.

You can order proceedings from HIMSS or obtain details about submitting abstracts, or learn about the SCAR annual meeting.