Thanks to vaccine development, we were among the thousands of healthcare professionals who descended on Orlando for this year’s HIMSS conference. It’s fitting that innovation is to thank for our ability to be in person because HIMSS is all about the power of healthcare innovation.

What people were talking about

Not surprisingly, a lot of discussion centered on the healthcare innovation trends that we identified earlier this year, particularly behavioral health and health equity.

We were also struck by the focus on humanizing healthcare in so many presentations. In particular, presenters emphasized the need to reimagine our approach to mental health care delivery. The keynote speech embodied this spirit. Olympic legend Michael Phelps talked candidly about his mental health struggles and offered a powerful call to action to end the stigma preventing people from getting help.

There were also other hot topics that took center stage that we’re excited to share.

1. A healthcare workforce in crisis means doubling down on workforce satisfaction and retention

After two years of taking care of COVID patients, healthcare professionals are quitting in droves. The AMA reports that 1 in 5 doctors plans to leave the profession in the next two years. It’s a wake-up call for healthcare organizations to take care of their own people like they take care of patients. Just as healthcare systems use CRM to identify patients’ needs, it’s time to turn the lens inward to understand what employees are experiencing. This can help them rethink employee journeys, identify opportunities for automation and augmentation of tedious workflows, and improve the employee experience.

We see tremendous potential in balancing the skills of humans and machines. Some health systems are finding success with computer task automation and predictive staff scheduling. In his talk, “Human + Machine: The Future of Work in Healthcare,” Accenture’s Kaveh Safavi emphasized the need to supplement human productivity with machines as support not as replacements.

Dr. Louis Capponi, chief medical officer of Spora Health, made the point beautifully during a panel discussion in the Accenture booth on new care model innovation. He said that we have made physicians into data entry clerks, and we must provide opportunities for care team members to deepen their roles. Physicians should be seen not as individual contributors, but as leaders of multidisciplinary care teams that provide clinical and non-clinical care and expertise.

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There is so much potential to combine technology and human ingenuity to deliver in ways that can change people’s lives.

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2. People-centered design will help to define and unlock the true value of the digital front door

Many healthcare organizations were buzzing about the term “digital front door.” But what exactly they meant by it wasn’t always clear. What is clear is that many organizations are focused on addressing the complexity people experience when they engage with the healthcare ecosystem. As Accenture’s Victor Abiad reminded us in his talk on the digital front door, “There’s a clear need for solutions that eliminate friction for healthcare consumers.”

Yet healthcare organizations are struggling here. Building solutions on top of their existing platform is time-consuming and expensive and creates a disjointed experience for the end user. Organizations end up contracting with several companies, and integration is poor (or nonexistent). The result? Major point solution fatigue for health players, and frustration and friction for people.

To realize the true nature of boundaryless access, healthcare organizations should be certain that the products they select can adapt and integrate into a seamless experience. To prioritize these efforts, target areas that are the most in demand like chronic disease management, pay for outcomes, consumerism and location-agnostic care.

3. Disruptive players are hungry for partnerships with health systems and providers

While there are a variety of digital-first healthcare disruptors (such as startups, non-traditional provider entrants and large tech platforms), conversation is often about how they threaten traditional players. While this talk may be true in certain cases, the disruptors brought a different conversation to HIMSS.

For disruptors to be successful with the healthcare technologies they create, they must tune into clinician and patient needs. These tech startups know this, often having learned it “the hard way”. As they evaluate what’s next, they want true partnership models with traditional health players. After all, the latest, greatest tool does nothing to advance care if it isn’t informed by the needs of patients and providers and built around their natural patient journeys and workflows.  

In his State of Healthcare presentation, Accenture’s Darryl Gibbings-Isaac said, “We have to fight the friction by making sure that digital tools are adapted to fit into clinical workflows. Digital transformation will only be successful when it’s continually adapted to the needs of those it’s serving.” He advised companies to train clinicians and offer incentives beyond monetary rewards. The key is to collaborate to improve clinician workflows and prioritize experience while solving for an economic model that aligns partner organizations’ incentives.

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4. The push for interoperability is critical, but it creates new data security vulnerabilities

Regulatory mandates and a continued transition to value-based care models is driving the need for open data exchange. For these models to succeed, care teams must access peoples’ complete medical histories. Interoperability has long promised but has yet to give providers the reality of a single patient story. While progress has been made, early development has unearthed new challenges.

While fully transparent interoperability is not yet a workable reality for the average caregiver, organizations across the ecosystem do have access to a much larger amount of data than before. As such, the desire to monetize data has created economic incentives for holding onto proprietary data. Organizations often enable data exchange on a pay-per-click model via APIs, which discourages data sharing. While federal intervention (like the Health Care PRICE Transparency Act ) has unlocked the door to a new era of data transparency, increased clarity around existing regulations and new and more prescriptive legislation will likely be necessary to see meaningful change here.

Additionally, the rise of cultural awareness of personal data proliferation has created heightened sensitivity to data rights, usage and security. While EHR systems tend to be more secure, data exchange via APIs has been shown to be vulnerable to hacks including passive access from unintended parties all the way to fully nefarious ransomware attacks. In their talk on cybersecurity, Accenture’s Salwa Rafee and Palo Alto Networks’ Tapan Mehta tackled security issues. They warned that more data sharing means more cyber threats. “With the consolidation in the industry, a breach at one hospital could have a ripple effect across many others,” Rafee said. “Healthcare organizations should plan for ransomware attacks. It’s not if they will happen, but when.”

The human side of healthcare innovation

We left HIMSS excited for what’s ahead for the healthcare industry. It’s true that there are big problems to solve, some of which we’ve discussed here. However, there is so much potential to combine technology and human ingenuity to deliver in ways that can change people’s lives. That’s what makes healthcare innovation so powerful. It’s key to humanizing healthcare. Tell us about your HIMSS experience.

Matt Groff

Senior Manager – Health Strategy

Anshul Dhingra

Analyst – Health Strategy

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