Devices & Technology

HIMSS Annual Conference Highlights the Future of Health IT

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By Suzi Birz, principal, HiQ Analytics, LLC 

At the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Annual Conference, which took place in San Diego, California, on Feb. 12-16, the spotlight was on the complex issues surrounding advancements in health care information technology and the advantages they provide for both patients and health care providers. 

More than 25,000 attendees gathered for education sessions and an exhibition featuring 875 vendors. In addition, there were pre-conference workshops including symposiums on nursing informatics, pay-for-performance, pharmacy information technology and physician information technology. 

Attendees were treated to an array of keynote speakers, such as David Brailer, M.D., Ph.D., national coordinator for health information technology; Tom Ridge, former secretary of homeland security; Craig R. Barrett, chairman of Intel Corporation and appointee to the American Health Information Community; and Mark R. Warner, former governor of Virginia. Each spoke of the importance of the exploding use of technology in health care and the improvements to care and patient safety that can be brought about with the continued implementation of electronic health records. 

Many of the education sessions were aimed at nurses. Merryl Stitch, RN, solutions director for CTG HealthCare Solutions, summarized the conference by saying, “I was highly encouraged to hear so much emphasis and acknowledgement of benefits that were not merely return on investment and monetarily-based, but rather were linked to clinical/patient-safety related improvements and outcomes.” 

Stitch found a consistent message: “Communication and education are key in helping reduce variance in care delivery by managing to a standard rather than simply attempting to standardize care.” 

In her session, “Bridging the Great Divide: Joining Computerized Clinical Documentation and Nursing Theory,” Susan Rosenberg, RN, MSN, clinical systems consultant for SMR Consulting, presented her experiences in developing clinical documentation standards. 

Rosenberg opened with a description of the clinical documentation team at one site. The purpose of the team was to develop standardized content for computerized and manual documentation. The team included staff from various levels and facilities from the health care system. Documentation standards addressed problem list, assessment, interventions and outcomes. Before taking questions, Rosenberg closed by providing the three pointers for success: mutuality, education and commitment. 

There were several sessions stressing the importance of timely and appropriate communication between caregivers impacting positive patient outcomes and safety issues. 

Sharp Healthcare’s presentation on patient safety focused on creating a culture of safety with a seamless integration of clinical data at the point of care. Nancy Pratt, RN, MSN, senior vice president of clinical effectiveness at San Diego, California-based Sharp Healthcare discussed the process design changes, including a reduced reliance on memory and vigilance; use of checklists and forcing functions; and elimination of look- and sound-alikes. The safety information system is comprised of three components: unsafe acts, local workplace factors and organizational factors. The Sharp team developing the triggers and the system is multi-disciplinary, with both clinical and engineering contributors. 

A vendor panel was called together to discuss “Reducing Errors/Improving Care: The Outlook on Clinical Systems.” Don Rucker, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer at Siemens; Bill O’Connor, M.D., vice president of medical affairs at McKesson Corporation; and Jack Buxbaum, vice president at EDS, shared their insights on the current use of clinical systems and the direction these systems must go to see improved clinical care. Rucker stated that “up to 75 percent of clinical decisions in the United States are made with pertinent information missing.” 

The messages from these speakers were complementary: To achieve true variance reduction and practice evidence-based medicine, connectivity and data issues must be solved. Clinicians need rapid access to accurate and complete data at the point of care. Clinical processes need to reflect the way a clinician thinks and acts. Therefore, the systems that support these processes need to reflect the same thought processes. 

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) held a Town Hall meeting. Mark Leavitt, M.D., Ph.D., CCHIT chair, presented the background information, current state of pilot testing and timeline for the next few years. The mission of CCHIT is to accelerate the adoption of robust, interoperable health information technology throughout the United States health care system, by creating an efficient, credible, sustainable mechanism for the certification of health information technology products. 

A pilot of the certification of ambulatory electronic health records is currently underway, with certification of vendors expected as early as June 2006. 

The attendees enjoyed a keynote presentation by Craig Barrett, a recent appointee to the American Health Information Community (AHIC) and its only representative from the information technology industry. AHIC is a public-private collaboration formed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2005 to help develop standards and achieve interoperability of health information. Barrett asserted that any solutions must address the chronically ill and the aged. AHIC is looking at health care through four lenses: consumer empowerment, electronic health records, chronic care and biosurveillance. 

By all accounts, the conference was a success with attendees with diverse roles in health care able to focus on the tracks that held the most interest for them. 


Health Information and Management Systems Society 

© 2006. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

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