If it’s April in Chicago and it’s snowing it must be HIMSS. Say, what? Usually the annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) is held in February in some lovely southern climate, like Florida, Georgia or Southern California. This year, the HIMSS organizers thought they’d try out the association’s home base in the Windy City and the gargantuan McCormick Place. On purpose, the HIMSS exec’s postponed the Chicago meeting to April to avoid the usual February climate and Lake effects. Sounds like good planning, no?

We expect 2-4 inches of snow overnight, and it’s the week before Easter. The best-laid plans…might this be a foreshadowing of a difficult HIT forecast for us future-readers?

I think not. One forecast I’m safe in making is that this week will unveil a whole lot of companies keen to get their share of the $19 billion worth of stimulus funds. If not a feeding frenzy, I expect at least to see a lot of vendors sharing their opinions about what constitutes “meaningful use,” a key phrase in the legislation that speaks to what level of applications health providers (physicians and hospitals) need to adopt in order to qualify for the Federal incentive funds beginning in 2011. One practical example I’ve seen of this is a white paper from athenahealth, “Be Prepared for the HITECH Act: Eight Tips for Successful EHR Adoption,” which offers some crisp, useful advice about avoiding the hype and getting to the right vendor. The bottom-line: “choose a partner, not a product.”
Another key driver of activity at this year’s HIMSS, which expects about 28,000 attendees at a time when many organizations have halted employee travel to meetings, is action around revenue cycle management. The issue of patient bad debt has worsened in the past 18 months and should continue to be a challenge for hospital CFOs and, indeed, for physicians’ practices as well. So financial systems that help assuage this problem will be visible.

There will also be a lot of action among service providers who can help clinicians and hospitals get more value out of their IT investments. Among these will be IBM, BearingPoint, PerotSystems, and a host of system integrator types listed as “Consultants” in the HIMSS resource guide to the meeting.

Sunday’s keynote speaker, Dennis Quaid, spoke eloquently about the issue of medical errors. I wrote here on Health Populi about the Quaid twins’ Heparin mis-dosing in Health care IT by way of Hollywood and hip hop on November 21, 2007. Quaid brought a very human face to the keynote which most keynotes in the past have lacked, and I applaud HIMSS’s including Mr. Quaid in this year’s conference. In the midst of EHR-madness and the ARRA pot-o’-gold, we should not overlook the central issue of medical errors and quality assurance which the IOM’s report, To Err is Human, warned against too many years ago (ten years in November 2009!). And we’ve miles to go before we get to sleep on that one…

There is a growing presence of Health 2.0 and web-based tools this year, which manifests in both new vendors taking booth space along with several education sessions on the topic (in which I’m participating on one such session for the HIMSS SIG on eHealth on Monday). HIMSS also launches the Tech Lab this year, to educate attendees on social networking tools (and I’ll be participating in both a Twitter group to meet fellow “Tweeters” along with a Meet the Health Bloggers Summit on Tuesday afternoon).

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Over the next three days, I will report here on Health Populi what I’m seeing, sensing and learning about how HIT will shape up in 2009 and beyond. It may well be a “momentous” time for health IT, according to HIMSS Board Chair Charles Christian. And Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island told the HIMSS audience that HIT will be the backbone of health reform. Let’s hope “momentousness” leads to “momentum” for HIT adoption that’s effective, optimal and always, always in the best interests of patients. Dennis Quaid’s message must remind us of that.