The theme for the annual HIMSS conference and exhibition this year, “Where the World Connects for Health,” could not have been more fitting. With over 45,000 professionals in attendance and over 300 distinct education sessions, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference brings healthcare information technology (IT) stakeholders from across the world together to learn from one another, educate, collaborate, and network. Attendees had the opportunity to engage on nearly any topic related, directly or indirectly, to health IT, from cybersecurity to electronic health records (EHRs) to artificial intelligence to predictive analytics to telemedicine, and more – the list literally does go on.
I had the opportunity to attend to participate in sessions related to the role of health IT in disaster preparedness and response. Going into the conference, I (perhaps rather naïvely) assumed these sessions would focus primarily on the importance of interoperability. (Because if interoperability is important in healthcare during normal operations, and important in emergency management and disaster responses, how could it not be the most important topic for sessions on health IT during and for emergencies?) While interoperability was indeed an important topic, it truly was just one of many. Experts and panelists representing a diverse array of organizations who do not focus primarily, or in many cases even secondarily, on disaster preparedness and response teed up important considerations in designing and implementing health IT that will be able to assist providers and patients in times of crises. These included:
The time change from Las Vegas, where the conference was held, back to D.C. notwithstanding, I left the HIMSS conference feeling invigorated and encouraged, and with a renewed sense of awe at the power and scope of technology. In emergency management, it can sometimes seem like advances in technology create as many problems as they solve, in that our dependency on them can compound challenges during a crisis. When our technology systems break or are no longer available during a crisis, things can take a sharper turn for the worse. We see this all the time in healthcare. But a worldwide gathering of the most innovative and forward-thinking health IT professionals reminded me just how much progress we are making every day. And having disaster preparedness and response stakeholders mingling with these minds, sharing concerns and ideas, is another step in the right direction for fostering resiliency not just in our structures but our IT systems, as well.