Stephen Lieber, the president and CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, sounded pleased with the outcome of the trade associations annual convention, hosted this year at the McCormick Place convention center on Chicagos Lake Michigan shore.
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Despite the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and at least one day of snow and horizontal sleet, the HIMSS show drew about 27,500 attendees, according to Lieber, quoting unaudited final-day figures.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009with its tantalizing prospect of as much as $38 billion in healthcare information technology subsidies through 2015was clearly the difference between what was an upbeat HIMSS show this year and what might have been a wake by the lake.
Attendance was off only slightly, about 5.5%, from the record 29,100 visitors drawn to sunny Orlando in February 2008 for a HIMSS show held well before the nations economy fell off a cliff. Since then, travel budgets for IT vendors and providers alike have come under closer scrutiny.
Still, to put the drop in perspective, attendance this year was substantially ahead of the 24,700 at the 2007 HIMSS show in New Orleans, and up slightly from the then-record 25,600 at HIMSS 2006 in San Diego.
This year, Lieber said, We had more provider organizations represented here than weve ever had. What else could you attribute it to? Its the stimulus. Do we have a history of good educational programming? Sure. Do we have a real good reputation? Sure. But they knew they had to pick up whatever intelligence they could this week, he said, referring to providers.
As it was, medical informaticist William Bria summed up the mood of anticipation and excitement at the daylong Physicians IT Symposium, one of several pre-conference sessions held April 4, the day before the show officially started its four-day run.
We are in the middle of one of the most extraordinary years in medical informatics thats ever been, said Bria, a pulmonologist who is the chief medical information officer at the Shriners Hospitals for Children, Tampa, Fla., and president of the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems. The work of the past 30 years of applied medical informatics has culminated in this moment.
In the future, payments will be tied more and more to quality and value reporting, according to CMS officials speaking at the show. While payment reform is necessary, it will be unequivocally linked to quality reporting as electronic data capture continues to be refined, said Barry Straube, a physician who is director and chief clinical officer in the Office of Clinical Standards and Quality at the CMS. Straube was one of three CMS officials who joined a panel on quality and security issues.
The CMS is in the middle of a number of initiatives testing how to tie quality reporting to financial incentives. It currently uses claims and other administrative data for those projects. While those programs, such as the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative and the Hospital Quality Initiative, have been successful in motivating providers to report, the data capture could be more robust, Straube said. EHRs are the only way to responsibly measure quality and value reporting, he said.
Meanwhile, tiny bands of IT insurrectionists trying to establish open-source software in the U.S. healthcare community established two beachheads during the show. Open-source software code is made available to the public for improvement rather than being kept proprietary.
Federal Health Architecture Program Director Vish Sankaran announced at HIMSS that federal officials, working with the Office of the National Coordinator at HHS, had released as open-source software code they developed to create a gateway between more than 20 federal organizations and the proposed national health information network.
Also at the show, open-source developers and officials from the federally supported Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology apparently buried the hatchet during a panel discussion. Members of the small, but growing, open-source community have argued on blogs and at other forums that the CCHIT process hampers their development efforts while it favors the work of proprietary software system developers.
CCHIT Chairman Mark Leavitt, however, successfully defused what began as a palpably hostile meeting. He did it by listening to the open-source developers gripes and recommendations, vowing that he was supportive of, not philosophically opposed to, open-source development, and promising to look into their problems and continue a dialogue with their members. I think its a good first step, said David Uhlman, CEO of ClearHealth, a developer of open-source systems. Well wait and see if it ends up in a big-door opening.
Robert Kolodner, the outgoing head of the Office of the National Coordinator, was given a standing ovation by several hundred attendees of a session on federal IT programs. Dave Roberts, vice president of government relations for HIMSS, got the crowd on its feet along with Kolodners key staffers. In March, President Barack Obama named David Blumenthal, a physician and healthcare policy expert, to succeed Kolodner. Blumenthal is scheduled to start later this month.
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