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HIMSS 2018: News and Trends from HIT’s Big Meeting

March 14, 2018

Developments in artificial intelligence (AI), precision medicine, cybersecurity and patient engagement were among the highlights of this year’s conference of the Chicago-based nonprofit Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS).  The meeting brought together more than 40,000 health information technology professionals from 50 countries to explore the latest trends and innovations.

Improving patient access:  Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), announced MyHealthEData, an initiative designed to give patients easier access to their own health information and the ability to access that data on the device or application of their choice.

Ms. Verma also introduced Blue Button 2.0, which will allow Medicare beneficiaries to access their health records on applications that will help them manage their health and share the information with their physicians to support clinical decision-making and continuity of care.  Other priorities for the agency include streamlining the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program (Meaningful Use) and MACRA’s Quality Payment Program to reduce the administrative burden for physicians, and zeroing in on the development of quality measures and improvement activities that will improve interoperability.

Network safety: The HIMSS 2018 Cybersecurity Survey of providers, vendors and consultants asked two overarching questions: 1) How far has the healthcare and public health sector progressed in cybersecurity? and 2) Who is doing what in cybersecurity?

The survey found that most organizations (75.5 percent) have experienced a significant cybersecurity incident within the past 12 months.  The main actors in these incidents were believed to be online scam artists (37.6 percent), negligent insiders (20.8 percent), hackers (20.1 percent) and malicious insiders (5 percent).  The most common initial point of security compromise (61.9 percent) was email.  Compromised websites and compromised cloud services providers were among other modes of security compromise cited by relatively small numbers of respondents.

The majority of respondents (84.3 percent) indicated that they have dedicated more resources, including people and assets, to cybersecurity this year than last year.  However, lack of staff (52.4 percent of respondents) and financial resources (46.6 percent) continue to hinder many organizations’ efforts to mitigate and remediate security incidents.  “Healthcare organizations (and their leaders) need to take proactive steps by instilling positive change and making cybersecurity a genuine priority,” the report stated.  “It is only then that we can move forward instead of taking one step forward and two steps back.”  The report called for the widespread and diligent use of network monitoring using machine learning and other methods—tools that can be used to predict and mitigate cyberattacks without the need for additional staff.

Precision medicine:  A survey sponsored by cloud services provider Oracle found that, of 316 researchers at hospitals and academic medical centers, contracted research organizations, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and other organizations, 62 percent are involved in precision medicine programs and another 12 percent said they would like to participate or are planning to launch initiatives within one or two years.  Oncology is considered the specialty in which precision medicine can have the most impact, but neurology, cardiology, pediatrics, prenatal screening with genetic counseling and infectious disease were also cited as among the areas with potential.

While earlier precision medicine programs often involved commercial partners, current programs reveal a shift toward in-house research programs, with 43 percent of respondents indicating programs that are a hybrid of in-house and commercial providers and 18 percent indicating that their programs are completely in-house.

The majority of respondents who are not planning a precision medicine program indicated that they see a benefit in pursuing one but lack the necessary infrastructure (24 percent) have funding constraints (20 percent) or lack sufficient genomics or clinical data to support precision medicine (16 percent).  Eighteen percent of those who are not planning a precision medicine initiative reported that such a program would not benefit their business. 

Deep learning:  Artificial intelligence was arguably the star of HIMSS 2018.  Partnerships between healthcare providers and technology developers drew notice for innovations that use AI, machine learning and related technologies to improve congestive heart failure care, predict and send early alerts when patients might be deteriorating and a seemingly limitless array of other applications.  However, at the conference’s machine learning and AI event, keynote speaker Leonard D’Avolio, PhD, of Harvard Medical School urged HIT professionals and organizations not to fall prey to the myth that these technologies are a magic bullet.  The hyperbole currently surrounding AI blocks more meaningful discussions about what the technologies can do and how they should be applied.  Dr. D’Avolio advised organizations to have a clear problem and execution plan in place before pursuing AI as a solution.

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