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August 19, 2021

Healthcare competition, ROI, digital transformation and more: 5 key takeaways from HIMSS21

Despite smaller numbers than previous years, HIMSS21 still sparked top-level conversation among those in healthcare and technology. The conference, which took place in Las Vegas on August 9th through the 11th, drew about 19,000 in-person attendees and 5,000 digital, with about 700 exhibitors on-site. Conversations centered around a range of topics, including consumer tech trends, return on tech investments, digital transformation, AI and social determinants of health.

We were excited to have the Bright.md team on-site to meet with healthcare executives from around the country for engaging and energizing in-person conversations. Here are our team’s five key takeaways from this year’s HIMSS conference.

  1. Measuring the value and ROI of technology investments. According to a poll conducted by HIMSS of 3,000 industry professionals, 80 percent of those surveyed said they plan to increase their digital investments. Fifty-two percent, however, said they haven’t progressed beyond pilot stages for digital integration, although they understand the need for it. The pandemic has sparked the consideration of new technologies, particularly with regard to digital health and telehealth investments. And as a result, executives are needing to determine what metrics matter, how to ensure they’re measuring the right things, and how to make the case for digital transformation.
  1. Consumer tech trends crossed with patient attraction and retention. According to a number of sessions at HIMSS, health systems should be focusing heavily on patient engagement—think Netflix, according to one speaker. Patient experience has become more important due to empowered consumers and self-service options. As a result, a digital front door is critical to staying competitive against other convenient, on-demand digital options. Similar sessions spoke to how health systems are reluctant to challenge direct-to-consumer options. Yet, speakers warn they will need a strategy in place to combat declining revenue and patient volumes.
    In one session, Aaron Martin, Executive Vice President & Chief Digital & Innovation Officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, highlighted the need for more health systems to own patient relationships through deeper, ongoing engagement to stay competitive and drive loyalty. “If you don’t have a strategy to keep consumers engaged with you between episodes of care, you will be out—because you won’t own the patient relationship. You have to increase frequency and relevance of patient engagement points between care encounters.”
  1. Efficiency is a constant pain point. Driving operational efficiency continues to be challenging for health systems, yet a number of tech innovations are looking to help. Automation, for instance, has proven to be a major solution for this and other issues. According to speakers during a session on tech barriers, Covid-19 continues to be a main driver of operational awareness, helping reveal where opportunities may be. One strategy they highlighted was to accept that change could be incremental. For instance, machine learning for documentation purposes may be a better starting point to pave the way for clinical decision support tools.

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  1. Digital transformation uptake and barriers. Although many can agree there’s room for improvement for healthcare technology, uptake is still limited. According to a panel, misaligned incentives, faulty design, and just plain interia continue to be barriers to digital transformation across the U.S. Piecemeal EHR implementations throughout the past 10 years contributed to a disjointed approach to digital care, while complicated incentives and regulatory measures also come into play. However, other sessions included speakers whose health systems’ rose to the challenge and credited their digital transformation journey to a collaborative approach scoped out pre-Covid. Many speakers and attendees echoed that patient experience and organizational buy-in are key to combating common barriers. Speaking virtually in a session on digital health in action, Dr. Nick Patel, Chief Digital Officer and Vice Chair for Innovation & Clinical Affairs at Prisma Health, shared one of his biggest pieces of advice: “Don’t let your EHR dictate your digital transformation strategy,” he said.
  1. Equity, care quality, and social determinants of health. Lastly, a large focus during this year’s HIMSS conference was placed on care equity and the lessons learned as a result of the pandemic. Covid-19 highlighted inequities within the U.S. medical system, leading to a realization that an integrated system is critical to ensure equal access to healthcare. Speakers advised systems and payers to have comprehensive data available in order to know where to address solutions, although they warned the proper use of technology is key. Digital tools and remote patient monitoring can help, but they need to ensure solutions don’t accidentally worsen inequities.
    Instead, speakers suggested making health equity a formal aspect of quality improvement by encouraging executives to focus on equity throughout their organization. Dr. Ronald Copeland, FACS, Senior VP and Chief Equity Inclusion & Diversity Officer from Kaiser Permanente, said it best: “There is no quality without equity.”

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