The No. 1 takeaway from HIMSS 2018: 'Amazon and Apple and Uber, oh my!'

Over 40,000 stakeholders from every corner of healthcare descended on Las Vegas this week for the 2018 Healthcare Information Management Systems Society Conference. A convention of this size and scale can be a "lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" type of scary.

Products from 1,300-plus companies are coming at you from every angle with promises of artificial intelligence, machine learning and, of course, seamless integration and interoperability. Presentations from care providers are showing you how they cracked the code on quality or cost while glossing over the steps to help you and your organization actually get there. In other words, it's easy to not just lose your money but your mind in Vegas during HIMSS. 

So, I set out to ignore the hype of the flavor of the day and instead do some detective work to better understand the real problems that need to be solved and the technologies that hold the promise to help. 

Having attended HIMSS for the last 18 years (gulp), I decided to completely avoid the sessions and the vendor booths and instead have hallway and sit-down conversations with 50 different healthcare providers to get their perspective. Mission accomplished —  I spoke to CIOs, CMIOs, and CTOs, as well as leaders of population health, data analytics and decision support for many of the top healthcare delivery systems, academic medical centers and medical groups in the country. 

The big takeaway from these 50 conversations was the collective, "Amazon and Apple and Uber, OH MY!" buzz in the halls of HIMSS. The recent announcements that Amazon, Apple and Uber are getting into healthcare captured everyone's attention with the hope of a new casino game that is a guaranteed winner. 

While the idea of a wizard with a magical potion to fix healthcare is pretty intoxicating, healthcare providers are understandably and justifiably skeptical. All insiders recognize that the actual ideas these three innovative tech companies just announced aren't exactly new. Each represents an area — group purchasing via Amazon, employee clinics by Apple and transportation via Uber — that is currently covered in some form or fashion. 

So, then why such a big buzz? 

In full candor, I was planning on writing an article about the fact that while each of these announcements is intriguing and has the potential to drive an improvement to the current condition, all stakeholders would agree that it will take much more to truly heal healthcare. While I still think that this basic premise is true, after the 50 conversations I had, I came to understand something else. While individually these companies may not turn healthcare on its head, the collective announcements are waking people up to the fact there is a better way of doing things and that if they don't innovate, someone else will. 

In other words, whether or not these three companies will deliver true transformation in the future is still TBD, but they are absolutely providing motivation right now. And this is huge.

Why is this outside influence so critical in this industry? The simple truth is that healthcare delivery systems are incredibly complex multibillion dollar operations with tens of thousands of employees. All businesses of this size and scale, both inside and outside of healthcare, have an extremely hard time being nimble and are always at risk for innovation happening on the edge of their business model. So, while group purchasing, employer clinics and transportation are not burning platforms for any executive team in a hospital today, when they see the names Amazon, Apple and Uber playing in those spaces, these areas immediately become board level agenda items and initiatives. 

Of course, there were many other topics that came up in these 50 conversations that are also intriguing and actionable for healthcare providers right now. Some that came up consistently, in order of how actionable they are right now for most organizations, are the following:

  • The cloud is now the destination for seemingly every provider, for everything.
  • Advanced cost accounting is now an absolute requirement to support value-based contracts.
  • Telehealth is now mainstream, with every health system at various stages of deployment.
  • Cybersecurity is now a board level imperative with providers looking to collaborate.
  • Predictive analytics is now driving both operational improvements and clinical decisions. 
  • Artificial intelligence is now possible because the data set is now accessible.
  • Voice-driven hospital rooms are actively being tested.
  • Blockchain is being tested for contracts, sharing patient information and managing supply chain.
  • Virtual reality is finding practical use cases for everything from improving clinical training to patient rehabilitation. 

The list goes on and on with many more buzzwords that I left out (machine learning, precision medicine, genomics, etc.), but the encouraging message is that healthcare providers are actually getting pretty practical about using technology to really make a difference in how they deliver care.

There is a great line from a Tracy Chapman song All That You Have is Your Soul that goes "don't get tempted by the shiny apple." While it is easy to be attracted to simple ideas, healthcare is an incredibly complex industry with an overwhelming number of problems that need to be solved. And truly solving these problems is incredibly challenging work.

With that said, for too long it is has been too easy to accept healthcare's shortcomings. And that is exactly why Amazon, Apple and Uber can be incredibly helpful — not just in producing ideas, but in providing the inspiration for us to truly take action to help heal healthcare, not in the future but right now. 

And if they can do that it would truly be an, "OH MY!" 

Dan Michelson is the CEO of Chicago-Based Strata Decision Technology. Dan also recently wrote "Top 12 takeaways from the 2018 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference."

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