This year’s HIMSS (Healthcare Information Management Systems Society) conference was held at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. In attendance were some 35,000 IT professionals, nurses, corporate leaders, and others interested in learning all there was about healthcare information management.

Conference education

The conference began, as it always does, with a pre-conference workshop day. There were ten workshops available this year ranging in topics from mobile devices to software implementation, data warehousing to project management, and several more clinically-oriented workshops such as meaningful use and workflow analysis.

Officially beginning on Monday, March 4, the conference was host to five keynote sessions and ten breakout education sessions over four days. The keynotes were given by leaders in the healthcare and political healthcare reform arenas.  The education sessions each contained about 20 choices offering attendees plenty of opportunity to learn something new or brush up on some old knowledge.  Each session offers something each attendee could be interested in.  Also offered were several roundtable sessions encouraging heavy audience involvement, an ONC (Office of the National Coordinator) Town Hall, and, new this year, encore sessions of the best and most-attended sessions from the previous days.

EMRs are going to lead to Big Healthcare Data

From an IT perspective, sessions were geared toward some of the most important issues facing healthcare IT professionals today.  One of the biggest is using the data and documentation everyone has been capturing in their EMR systems for the last several years.  And, with the continued creation of Health Information Exchanges (HIE) in many states and regions, healthcare data will soon become Big Data.  Already there are systems being built to be able to analyze data on a massive scale that can be used to find correlations in genetics, vital statistics, and medical tests that may lead to earlier diagnosis of disease and potential cures.

For example, the analysis we already have is just a few steps away from being able to help people determine the types of food they should eat based on the levels of various enzymes each person’s body naturally produces.  This will lead to individualized diet, according to keynote speaker former president Bill Clinton, that lead to choices like his of eating a Vegan diet or, for others, a more Paleo or Primal diet.  These tests will be able to tell you what types of food you should and should not eat to feel your best and be in your best condition.  Before long, techniques like these will lead to individualized medicine where a person is given a treatment that is fully compatible with their genetics and epigenetics instead of a generalized pill that works – in some cases – on only 15% of the population anyway.  Another keynote speaker, Dr. Eric Topol, gave this later example when referring to current extremely popular high blood pressure medicine and other drugs.  According to him, this type of medicine will greatly reduce medical costs because there will be fewer people receiving drugs that do not work and then having the medical problems that arise from their condition anyway.

IT security in a healthcare world

Healthcare IT professionals are extremely aware of HIPAA and the HITECH act (which I mentioned in my post last year), however we have not even begun to scratch the surface of what other industries are having to do to keep their systems and networks safe and secure.  Healthcare IT is just now beginning to adopt the ISO 27002 Security Framework and not all organizations are aware that HIPAA has an Audit Program Protocol to assess against the Security Rule nor are they aware that NIST has developed a Security Toolkit for HIPAA auditing.  If you’re in Healthcare IT, and you haven’t done at least an internal HIPAA assessment, you may be at a big risk if the federal government comes calling.

One piece of advice given by presenters on security policies and procedures is to not set the bar to an unattainable height.  Many audits are more concerned with IT departments meeting their policies than they are with the policies meeting a “standard.”  You can always raise the bar after you hit your first goal or if you are audited and the results require you to meet a higher standard.

Exhibition hall

The conference is also host to over 1200 vendors occupying an exhibition hall that is over a mile long!  The exhibition hall was so huge they literally had trams running from end to end.  Everyone from EMR software to med cart manufacturers to those peddling waterproof keyboards took up space ranging from a ten-by-ten booth for new or smaller vendors to over ten thousand square feet for the largest EMR vendors.  Many vendors also offered Knowledge Center sessions, 30-minute demonstrations of their software, system, or method meant to give attendees a glimpse into new technology without the burden of a full demo.

Conference comfort

Comparing this conference to last year’s in Las Vegas, this one seemed a little bit rougher around the edges.  The conference center was not laid out as well – about a mile long from end to end and requiring attendees to often make the entire trip in 15 minutes or less – compared to last year where the Sands Convention Center was more vertically-oriented, comprising five or six floors with a shorter walk to the nearest escalator.  Also, the hotel situation in New Orleans is not as conference-friendly as Las Vegas.  In Las Vegas, there are many affordable hotels within a ten minute walk of the Sands whereas in New Orleans the hotels nearby are very expensive and the affordable ones are a minimum 5-10 minute walk.  However, the education and exhibition content were generally of the highest quality and very worth the time spent.  Finally, the Wi-Fi and Cellular Data networks held out much better than Las Vegas, which was a relief to me and, I’m sure, other attendees.

Next year, the HIMSS conference will be returning to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL where it was last in 2011.  It will be February 23-27, 2014.  Given the fact that HIMSS is already offering credit card reservations for hotel rooms on the HIMSS14 page, I’m guessing it’s a good idea to book early to avoid the hassles of a long commute to and from the conference like many had this year.

Did you attend HIMSS13 or do you plan to attend HIMSS14?  Share with us your feedback on HIMSS13 and your hopes for HIMSS14 below.