HIMSS, once known as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to improve healthcare through optimal use of information technology and management systems. Founded in 1961, HIMSS has nearly 50,000 individual members, over 570 corporate members, and over 225 not-for-profit partner organizations.
Each year, HIMSS has a conference and exhibition in a major U.S. city. The 2013 edition, HIMSS13, was held March 3-7 in New Orleans. HIMSS13 featured 1,158 exhibitors and was attended by nearly 35,000 people.
HIMSS13 Intelligent Hospital Pavilion
With so many exhibitors showcasing the latest in healthcare technology, it is difficult to choose one common theme. Common themes included meaningful use of electronic health records, interoperability, accountable care, and mobile health, but the theme of connectivity stood out. Attendees sought to be connected with their peers and to learn how to improve connections among hospital staff members, between nurses and patients, between medical devices and systems, and so on.
One initiative to improve connectivity is the formation of the CommonWell Health Alliance, which was announced at HIMSS13. The CommonWell Health Alliance is a collaboration of McKesson, Cerner, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway, and RelayHealth for a common goal of enabling care integration and data liquidity. This includes the ability to identify patients as they move from one healthcare provider to another and enabling providers to gain access to data from previous health care encounters, all while maintaining patient-control over consent forms and authorizations for data sharing.
Another indication of the connectivity theme was showcases of the use of wireless technologies to connect devices to hospital networks. There were many examples of nurses using smartphones and similar devices to communicate within a hospital and have real-time patient information right at their fingertips and at the point of care.
A big showcase for connectivity was the Intelligent Hospital™ Pavilion. Pavilion demos showed how wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, RFID, and Bluetooth can be leveraged for application such as real-time location services, patient identification, and remote monitoring, enabling hospitals to eliminate waste, reduce improper medications, provide more real-time support, and reduce infections. All of these improvements will slow the rising costs of healthcare while improving patient care. But the demos in the pavilion were quite a bit different from the realities of how most hospitals operate today, with nurses doing manual charting and wires connecting sensors to monitors and monitors to the hospital network.
What is slowing the adoption of Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies in hospitals? Applications that rely on wireless technologies assume that those technologies will provide reliable connections, even though hospitals present many challenges to reliable wireless connections. A few years ago, most medical device makers were unaware that consumer-grade Wi-Fi is insufficient in hospitals and used that Wi-Fi in their devices. As a result, most hospital IT personnel have concerns about Wi-Fi security and reliability, according to the results of a survey by HIMSS exhibitor Meru Networks. As medical device makers adopt Wi-Fi solutions that are hospital-ready and even hospital-proven, and as they follow industry best practices for deploying and managing those solutions, concerns around Wi-Fi should ease.