HIMSS is always a great conference, but I have to admit – on my flight down to Atlanta, I was slightly dreading four days of endless hypotheses around meaningful use.  The understandable theme of this year’s show, meaningful use, has quickly escalated from an exciting and game-changing initiative to one that has even the most optimistic healthcare enthusiasts scratching their heads and drowning in buzzwords, overpromising and under-delivering.  It was only at last year’s HIMSS that one of the largest HIT vendors claimed they had meaningful use nailed down (only weeks after the announcement of the initiative) but when tested, couldn’t give a straight answer on what it meant or how it would deliver value to patients.

This year, however, I’m already noticing a reality running through HIMSS that I was pleased to find. This year’s sessions have revealed that a lot of attendees are more comfortable admitting the reality of the situation; that they are just now really understanding the challenges that this will bring. I overheard an IT executive from one of the most prestigious and well-regarded health centers in the world claim, “If we’re not sure that we are going to be ready by 2011, I can only imagine what others are facing.”

He certainly had a point.  Vendors, like Picis, that have embraced ARRA from the beginning, need to approach each hospital partner with an understanding that each one will be in a different state of readiness. There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution for each step along the way to 2015.

I really enjoyed listening to a very frank and honest session from Dr. Michael Westcott, CMIO of Alegent Health, and Dr. John Waller from the Medical University of South Carolina. They discussed what they believe actually needs to happen for meaningful use to make sense and for expectations to be set realistically, raising questions such as:

  • Is it better to do wrong things quickly or do right things a little more slowly?
  • Should this be an all-or-nothing discussion? Are there baby steps towards meaningful use that are just as valuable to both hospitals and patients, and who is measuring those?
  • In reality, is struggling to get a slice of the ARRA pie akin to having a baby to get a tax reduction?

This was a conversation that I found more useful than those that have been filled with speculative grandeur and, in some cases, irrational fear, which many vendors and hospitals jumped to last year.  Based on what I’m seeing at HIMSS10, we’re moving in the right direction, one piece of criteria at a time.

- Carlos M. Nunez, M.D.