Interoperability Highlighted as Main Industry Trend at HIMSS16

The HIMSS16 conference was full of tech-laden discourse and riveting presentations that highlighted the potential for healthcare IT to truly transform the manner in which hospitals and patients can connect and seek better health outcomes.

One of the main stars of the show was interoperability, as vendors and industry analysts touted the increasingly connected medical world and the coming benefits for patients thanks to new products and services. In a detailed report that was released following the conference, Research and Markets dubbed interoperability as one of the “Top Trends in Health IT from HIMSS16,” and noted its potential to change the landscape of healthcare in the coming years.

Industry Urged to Move Toward Interoperability

One of the main indicators of the increased industry focus on interoperability was the pledge announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to EHR Intelligence. HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced the pledge after the conference, and more than 90 percent of the country’s EHR vendors have already announced their commitment to the effort.

The pledge contains three basic core commitments that companies need to adhere to in the future: consumer access, increased transparency, and the implementation of federally recognized standards.

“These commitments are a major step forward in our efforts to support a healthcare system that is better, smarter, and results in healthier people,” said Burwell in the announcement. “Technology isn’t just one leg of our strategy to build a better healthcare system for our nation, it supports the entire effort. We are working to unlock healthcare data and information so that providers are better informed and patients and families can access their healthcare information, making them empowered, active participants in their own care.”

Given that the major players have signed onto the pledge, the momentum for such a movement is only expected to grow in the near future. Though this momentum was notable at the conference, HIMSS released recommendations regarding potential issues that could limit the progress for interoperability efforts.  

Removing the Barrier to Interoperability Progress

The HIMSS board of directors wrote a letter to HHS outlining how there needed to be a clear set of standards for the industry, according to HealthITInteroperability. The board outlined barriers to progress, applauded the initiative taken by HHS, and offered industry-sponsored assistance to promote further interoperability measures.

A main thrust of the letter was to create a centralized system that would promote consistency across the industry.

“HIMSS would also note that a centralized repository would be a valuable tool to ensure consistent development of value sets by all participating authors,” said the letter, signed by HIMSS chair Dana Alexander, RN, MSN, MBA, FHIMSS, and HIMSS president and CEO H. Stephen Lieber, CAE. “These repositories are efficient for search and retrieval of value sets, specifically in cases where value sets are similar in their naming convention or the code sets they contain.”

The authors noted that the current standards, while helpful for IT developers, need to be updated for clarity to make adoption of the standards more widespread and streamlined.

Connectivity and the Future

Overall, however, the conference was full of positive commentary regarding interoperability and the HHS’s efforts to push for an industry-wide adoption of such measures. Some industry experts went as far as to say that the future of health IT hinges on the success of interoperability.

“The future of the nation’s health delivery system is one where electronic health information is unlocked and shared securely, yet seamlessly, to put patients at the center of their own care,” said Karen B. DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc., national coordinator for health information technology at HHS. “The broad agreement by leaders in health and health IT across the nation brings us much closer to our vision for a truly learning, connected health system.”