A Renaissance for US Healthcare – Reflections from HIMSS

March 14, 2013 Tracy Hillstrom

A Renaissance for US Healthcare – Reflections from HIMSS

The most pervasive message coming from last week’s HIMSS conference is a clear recognition that healthcare in the United States is broken.  The system is out of money, behind in technology deployment, and bogged down by a delivery model that is inconsistent with modern lifestyles.  The good news is that the community of healthcare providers, IT professionals, vendors and solution providers is coming together to share knowledge and completely rethink healthcare delivery.  This growing realization is driving a healthcare renaissance, where leaders are looking to technology, including RFID, to reshape and modernize, reduce costs, and build a delivery model enabling greater clinical success and patient satisfaction.

Momentum Builds for Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Much momentum is aimed at creating and using Electronic Health Records (EHR) as defined by the “Meaningful Use” standards developed by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The EHR Incentive Programs from Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) are part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and provide payments to eligible hospitals and eligible professionals for implementing EHRs. Before CMS pays incentives, hospitals and professionals must demonstrate Blue Button - Download My Datathat they have not just installed Certified EHR Technology (CEHRT), but that they have been using it in a “meaningful” way. If the hospital or professional does not qualify as a meaningful user by 2015, Medicare payments to the provider will be reduced.  Already, some providers are enabling patients to download their data with the “blue button.” 

EHRs Improve Healthcare Delivery

With “Meaningful Use” standards driving the creation and use of EHRs, additional transformation comes from considering how healthcare delivery can be improved by adding new data to the central repository of the EHR.  How much diagnosis could happen between a patient and healthcare practitioner over a Skype call and with a full medical history in an EHR?  There could even be a device that patients wear to continuously monitor and store vital health statistics which can then be downloaded during these calls.  There are many challenges to address, including how insurance companies will pay providers when the service happens over Ethernet and not with an in-office visit or procedure, how to transfer information securely, and how to automate information gathering for the best possible compliance.

Connected Devices Create the “Intelligent Hospital”

The presence of EHRs also supports a vision of data capture and analytics dubbed the “Intelligent Hospital.”  In this vision, all devices are connected using wireless radio and sensor technologies to create a connected view of hospital status and patient’s condition.  I attended a pre-conference seminar on “RFID & RTLS in Healthcare” where speakers shared case studies with strong ROI when using RFID and RTLS systems for tracking pumps/infusers, wheelchairs, surgical instruments, temperature sensors and more.  Some expressed desires for RFID-enabled automatic dispensing systems (ADS) to check for correct re-filling, and for more real time information to be collected from medical devices.  The “Intelligent Hospital” pavilion included a tour of demos that illustrated how radio technologies could be deployed in every room of the hospital!

The “Internet of Everything” and Health Innovation

Cisco and Intel presented a half-day “Cisco Community for Connection Health Summit” which kicked off with a presentation by Dave Evans, Chief Futurist at Cisco. He shared his thoughts on how many technologies including various forms of wireless communication will create the “Internet of Everything” (sound familiar?), which will be challenged in dealing with a “zettaflood” of data which needs to be processed.  Later, Thad Seymour, described the Lake Nona, Florida planned community to promote health innovation.  The community plans to co-locate and connect hospitals, biomedical research, and a medical school along with a health-oriented community plan for the ultimate opportunity to “innovate at the crossroads.”  They are still building and implementing the plan, but it’s a very novel idea and I look forward to learning more about Lake Nona’s progress next year.

Certainly, my days at HIMSS provided evidence of a strong business case and growth for RFID technologies in healthcare.  Yet, there is still a lack of understanding among providers about the varieties of RFID technology (e.g. HF, UHF, WiFi, passive, active) and how they differ and complement each other.  In order to fuel the healthcare renaissance in America, our industry needs to continue to investigate the emerging requirements, educate healthcare providers on technology options, and bring passive UHF RFID to providers as ready-made solutions to make a difference to healthcare operations.

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