The silver linings at HIMSS 21
As a health tech investor, taking risks and being an early adopter come with the territory. With that risk, also comes some of the best conversations, the most meaningful collaborations and a network of people, ideas and investment that drive transformation and change, sometimes incrementally, and sometimes at lightning speed.
In the wake of Covid-19, HIMSS was the first big player to take the risk of putting on a big conference. Despite the uncertainty leading up to the show last week in Vegas and the last-minute cancellations spawned by the Delta variant, I was impressed with what HIMSS21 produced. Much like Covid-19 forced us all to slow down, to have more meaningful conversations and collaborations, so, too, did HIMSS21. The in-person numbers were reportedly 19,300 with another 5,000 attending virtually. Compare that with attendance in 2019 when it was apparently around 42,500.
With a lot fewer vendors spread out between two different hotel exhibit halls, there was plenty of room for conversation, to be sure. Yet everyone agreed that even though we had fewer conversations than during past HIMSS conferences, we had more meaningful ones. They were longer and more in-depth. People were more engaged because they had fewer places to be, and the people who were there were on a mission. That mission was, how to take patient access to a new level.
At HIMSS, the larger-than-usual Interoperability Showcase featured the collaborative efforts of pandemic response, Covid-19 patient care transitions, the journey of Covid vaccinations, streamlined public health reporting for cancer care, AI-enabled automation and workflow transformation, and patient-centered care.
It was obvious, everywhere you looked, that the pandemic has, in fact, been the ultimate changemaker, forcing the kinds of silo-busting and ecosystem collaborations so necessary for healthcare patient engagement technology to (maybe) finally catch up to the consumer engagement technology that’s three or four generations ahead in other industries, like financial services.
I’ve long thought it disingenuous to talk about patient engagement without the foundation of consumer empowerment. Empowered patients would be able to view their health data not just from one source but from many, to authenticate and incorporate their own data (like we can with financial technology like Mint), to and receive real-time insights on their behaviors and metrics. What was interesting about HIMSS21, was who was driving the change conversation.
We didn’t see as many of the traditional players. The ones that were there had a notably smaller footprint, and the conversation was, in fact, very vendor driven.
As HIMSS21 influencer Gil Bashe so eloquently stated: “In the shadow of COVID-19, the conversation is very practical. We have come to the realization that the national health ecosystem is more than fragmented. It’s broken. From the exhibit floor to the sessions, topics that are dominating are expected: cybersecurity, data collection and analysis, interoperability, patient journey, remote patient monitoring systems that connect physicians to patients and medical technologies that integrate with artificial intelligence. The hallways and cafes are filled with attendees networking with an eye toward collaboration.”
And while neither my anecdotal survey on site nor the topical analysis of HIMSS21 hashtags by Simplur revealed a clear, single buzzword, I’m declaring one: Collaboration.
That was the goal… to see and interact with and engage with healthcare at the ecosystem level and to understand what’s going on today (from new entrants to established players who are pivoting), where the future lies, and how to find the right partners.
It was a show that was very network driven, collaboration driven, and ripe with opportunity and people trying to figure out what partnerships of the future look like, who the best partners are to go to market and to scale. Providers don’t have the budgets they used to for random IT projects, so now you have to find other dollars, and those either lie with large ecosystem players, like the Change Healthcares of the world, or they lie with payers and pharma companies and others.
In this year’s opening keynote, panelists joined HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf to emphasize the importance of breaking down healthcare silos to bring digital solutions, change and transformation. I also loved this quote from Ivor Horn, Google’s director of health equity and inclusion, in the context of health equity, access and population health: “We had been working in a room in the dark. And Covid opened the door.”
Ah yes, the silver linings. Digital health is set to follow the same meteoric path, with technologies working together as one to allow all healthcare stakeholders to be better equipped with the tools they need to protect, prevent, and empower while navigating the challenges of the complex healthcare ecosystem.