Under the hood at HIMSS11

I’m winging my way back to Seattle after three full days at HIMSS11 in sunny Orlando, Florida. My plane is running late due to snow in the Seattle area. 

Just like the weather between Orlando and Seattle, HIMSS11 was a display of extremes. I spent most of my time meeting with international customers in a nondescript conference room at the perimeter of the exhibit hall. I started each meeting by asking our guests, “So, what is your impression of HIMSS?” In every case, and in multiple languages, the answer came back, “Overwhelming!”

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WP_000035Indeed, even though I have attended at least ten of these events over the years, I too find the experience a bit overwhelming. Pity the poor CIO, hospital administrator, or physician who comes to HIMSS looking for something to buy. For those of you who’ve never been to HIMSS, try to picture several football fields stretched out end to end as far as you can see filled with every variety of vendor. Exhibits range from a guy with a stool in front of a backdrop, to million dollar, multistory palaces of glitz. Our Microsoft booth was large but not nearly as big as some of booths inhabited by well-known EMR/HIS vendors. And yes, there was the usual gaggle of impersonators, magicians, jugglers, booth babes and hot cars. I suppose my favorite bit of eye candy was the bright orange Tesla on display in the Merge booth. I was hoping it might be up for raffle, but no such luck, I was told the Tesla was a “company car” that is usually on display in the lobby of corporate headquarters. Business must be good at Merge these days.

WP_000018Providing a play by play revue of everything at HMSS is well beyond the scope of this blog. In fact, it would be well beyond the scope of an encyclopedia. However, I do have some words of wisdom for all of you who came to HIMSS looking for something to buy. First of all, if you are shopping for an EMR or hospital information system keep in mind that the journey doesn’t end when you get your shiny new system installed. Yes, we need to digitize health information in the United States (we are way behind most other developed nations). However, your new EMR all by itself won’t deliver a whole lot of value. The value comes with “meaningful use”, or as I have often said, “It’s what you do next that counts”. The value comes from improved, more efficient workflow. It comes from having the ability to measure what you do once information is digitized, and then continually improving your business and clinical processes. 

And finally, I have one other bit of advice to share. There’s a lot of stuff for sale that looks shiny and new but under the hood is old, inflexible, legacy IT. You’ll pay dearly for it, and because it is old, inflexible, legacy stuff, you’ll be locked in forever. Pay attention to the technology on which the EMR is built. Does it embrace open standards? Is it truly interoperable? Is it flexible enough to meet your needs today and tomorrow? Is the user interface intuitive? Does the EMR lend itself to mobile scenarios? Does it offer multiple data input options? Does your vendor understand and embrace “cloud computing”. Remember that purchasing hardware and software is only the beginning. Many vendors lock you in and make a bundle selling support and services for their old legacy IT. In other words, the platform matters.

So, that’s my wrap up on HIMSS11. If it is any comfort at all, feeling overwhelmed is perfectly normal.

Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director Worldwide Health Microsoft

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