The daylong Physicians IT Symposiumwhich preceded the kickoff of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society annual conference in Orlando, Fla.opened with a short, 40-year-old, black-and-white film clip of a hospital executive boasting about automating patient medical records and physician orders using electronic workstations from IBM. Over the next four decades and more, information technology vendors from large to small have been pressing hospitals, physicians and other providers to buy their products to digitize the delivery of care. Percentage point by percentage point, IT penetration in healthcare has ever so slowly churned upward.
And now who comes to wash away 40 years of work and threaten to dominate the market with the click of a switch? Microsoft Corp. and Google, thats who, and IT vendors and other true believers in the miracles of healthcare IT resent it like a small mom-and-pop dimestore faced with a Wal-Mart opening across town. And it was not hard to detect the undercurrent of resentment coursing through the HIMSS meeting from educational sessions to cocktail parties.
Physician Daniel Masys, who chairs the department of biomedical informatics at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said Google, the Internet search giant, has no idea of what its getting into with the companys plans to launch a personal health record. Masys gave the opening keynote address at the physicians symposium. Earlier this month, Google announced a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic to pilot-test a PHR. That followed the announcement in January by Microsoft that it plans to develop an electronic PHR through a partnership with the Mayo Clinic.
Masys, a member of the Institute of Medicine, said Google executives gave a presentation to the IOM four months ago on its PHR that Masys described as vague and naive. He said Google and others with similar plans to move into the PHR business will need to develop a number of strategic alliances in healthcare to gain the expertise they need to develop PHRs. Googles partnership with the Cleveland Clinic presumably addresses that concern.
Later, at the same symposium, speaker Holly Miller, a physician who is vice president and chief medical information officer at University Hospitals in Cleveland and chairwoman of the HIMSS PHR Steering Committee, took a swipe herself, saying that personal medical information stored by Microsoft or Google has no legal protection to guard the privacy and security of the information. When asked by one of the 300 or so physicians in the audience what impact he thought Microsofts and Googles entrance into the healthcare IT market will have, Masys just laughed and said everyone is waiting to see who the 800-pound gorillas will sit on.
Virtually every conversation overheard either waiting for an education session to start or the doors to the massive exhibit hall to open mentioned Microsoft and Google and the nerve both had in thinking they can do what others have been working on for 40 years. Like coaxing a rare orchid to open and then, when it finally does bloom, someone walks by, picks it and puts it in his lapel. The sense is that many of the attendees would rather scratch out another 40 years than have Microsoft and Google succeed overnight.
That said, attendees were transfixed by the corporate giants, said Stephen Lieber, HIMSS president and CEO. From what Ive heard, the Google booth was just overrun yesterday (Tuesday), he said. The same with Microsoft.
Microsoft, which has been a middleware mainstay in the healthcare IT industry and has been a regular exhibitor at the HIMSS convention, was last years star of the show, with Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer earning a coveted opening-day, keynote speaker slot, which he used to announce the purchase of Medstory, a Forest City, Calif.-based developer of a consumer-oriented healthcare search engine, and ballyhoo an earlier acquisition of the Azyxxi healthcare IT system integrator from MedStar Health System in Washington.
Today, Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt will get his chance to counterpunch in the keynote address to close the show. This is Googles first sojourn at HIMSS.
For several years, pundits and politicians have extolled the coming wonders of the new age of consumer-directed healthcare, and, subsequently, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of health plans, providers and IT vendors all offering up PHR variants, all hoping their offering will become the killer app of the new healthcare millennium. So far, these launches have failed to move a largely indifferent marketplace.
Were all looking at this consumer-focused IT, asking what does that mean and assessing and where it is going; is it real or is it hype? Lieber said.
Will Google and/or Microsoft make the difference? Keep your browser on and your mouse at the ready.
# # #
Early Wednesday morning we spotted Lieber coming down the escalator at the show. He looked tired but happy. With more than 27,000 attendees already registered and more than 900 vendors signed up to hawk their wares, both record numbers, the HIMSS CEO had plenty of blessings to count, and more were on the way.
For the first time this year, HIMSS sold a hall only pass that would allow attendees limited access to the vendors display hall Wednesday and Thursday. The price was $150, a steep discount from the $550 for the cheapest, general admission fee for the run of the show. Lieber said 1,200 people had signed up for the new passes.
It was our way to increase traffic toward the end of the show, Lieber said.
Lieber said organizations that are likely to avail themselves of the two-day passes are those with delegations already at the show. Some may not want to have so many IT department members away for the run of the show, but may have members of a product-selection team who also want to meet with specific vendors.
# # #
If the audience members werent awake when they first began their early-morning sessions and the coffee hadnt kicked in yet, the rock n roll music and dancers might have done the trick.
Singing an inspirational number with the refrain our time is now, the band rocked it out at 8:30 a.m. on Monday as dancers dressed in gray body suits raced through the aisles waving massive green flags. They joined the band at the front of the stage to perform a choreographed flag dance.
It sounded and looked more like a concert than the introduction of a weeklong healthcare IT conference, but there were a few toes tapping to the tune. John Wade, HIMSS chairman, followed that number with a slightly more subdued speech about the state of the IT industry and though he couldnt quite match the excitement of the band, he at least had the attention of a now wide-awake audience.
HIMSS moved from rock concert to Hollywood (participants might have missed the Oscars, but they were treated to Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Lucille Ball look-alikes posing for photos during the HIMSS welcome reception on Sunday night) with a movie that loosely established themes people could expect to see at the conference. A voice-over sounding awfully familiar (was Don LaFontaine in town?) hit the nail on the head with his remark: In a world where dogs carry their health records at all times, but humans still have to request facsimiles. It sparked wide laughter and applause.
No dogs and no ponies, but quite the show nevertheless.