The autonomous car is a metaphor for healthcare: that’s how my first interview kicking off the  HIMSS marathon began.

The annual 2017 HIMSS conference isn’t your father’s or mother’s HIMSS of ten years ago, or even the HIMSS of 2010 — the year that financial incentives for EHR adoption began to stream from the HITECH Act of 2009, motivating thousands of healthcare providers to acquire and meaningfully use digital health records systems. Then, the HIMSS conference floor was abuzz with EHR frenzy.

This week, over 43,000 people working at the intersection of healthcare and technology have converged in Orlando, Florida, for the annual meeting of HIMSS (the acronym for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society). It’s always appropriate when this meeting convenes in Orlando, because it’s a sort of Disneyworld for health IT geeks (a tribe in which I am a card-carrying member).

My first 1:1 meet-up at #HIMSS2017 was actually a 2:1 — with Jeroen Tas of Philips and Rick Valencia of Qualcomm, tag-teaming with me to discuss their companies’ alliance. Tas and Valencia share a vision of how healthcare is evolving: where high fidelity patient (and healthy person) monitoring will be “everywhere,” featuring low latency (read: fast) and secure connectivity. This is the optimal environment for the Internet of Medical and Healthy Things (IoT).

Philips’ role in this duet is to evolve the IoT of medical things into an ambient, intelligent environment where “things” connect and know a lot about people (in health/care, such people are patients, consumers, and caregivers). While Philips’ roots are in medical “things,” and a growing array of consumer health things, too, the strategy going forward is more about the network for healthcare than the things themslves. [For more on Philips’ consumer health things, see my blog from #CES2017 here].

Qualcomm’s role is to serve up that secure, wireless, connected environment via the company’s Qualcomm Life 2net Platform which connects Philips’ devices as well as those from other third parties.

This vision extends healthcare from the hospital to the home, ensuring continuity within the hospital during transitions, and then safe, healthy living at home for newly-discharged patients, people managing chronic conditions, and healthy folks who want to stay that way for as long as possible. “Patient self-management combined with 24/7 connectivity to a care network is an emerging model that enables scalable chronic disease mangaement for patients and providers,” Tas explained in a press release from August 2016.

Medical things should be able to connect and know about “you,” whether the thing is an inpatient hospital monitor, an MR imager, a personal emergency response system (like Philips Lifeline), or a connected toothbrush (which Philips launched at #CES2017). In such a network, devices would understand patients and environments. As Tas explained, for example, “If a patient comes out of surgery, their environment needs to adjust — such as light, monitors — in the hospital.” This smart, sensing network would seamlessly extend to the home.

Now, back to that autonomous auto. “This is not a remote-control driven car,” Valencia explained. “These are data-driven machines, reacting to sensors that are out in the environment. Those cars will see miles ahead and know the weather, accidents, and people driving on the road. There will be connections from them to everything else — including healthcare,” Valencia described.

Consider the healthcare network in light of the autonomous car metaphor. There are many nodes in the healthcare network: inpatient hospital, outpatient surgery, clinics, mobile vans going to schools and senior centers, nurses in Ubers and Lyfts delivering immunizations, and peoples’ homes. “Everything always needs to be connected in a secure way, constantly [sensing and] understanding the person, the patient, and what tools to give them to take care of the condition,” and also anticipate future health issues, Tas riffed.

In the healthcare context, this is the capability of being “always on,” always connected, always reacting to data emanating via sensor technology which may be on you — or inside of you, like a smarter pacemaker or smart pill. It’s the ambient nature of the technology that’s critically important, Tas asserted.

He raised a discussion we had earlier this year at CES 2017 about Philips’ work with Mercedes, the luxury auto manufacturer. Philips is collaborating with the car company on a wellness concept: the car would sense that the driver is stressed and coach him/her to relax. The dashboard would show both the car’s indicators as well as the driver’s clinical indicators — your personal health gauge. Then the car seat would proceed to massage your back, and perhaps prevent you from starting up the engine until your stress level abated. The car might also sense that the driver, who has Type 2 diabetes, has arrhythmia and then automatically drives to the closest hospital for a cardiac check.

The over-arching driver for this vision is value-based care. Both Philips and Qualcomm Life work globally with Ministers of Health, CEOs of large pharmaceutical manufacturers, academic medical centers, community hospitals, and other healthcare players. The January 2017 meeting of the World Economic Forum featured a discussion on value-based healthcare Valencia said, recognizing that realizing value-for-money in healthcare delivery is a worldwide phenomenon in and beyond the U.S.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Value-based payment cannot be addressed without attending to population health: a major theme at HIMSS 2017. I contend that you cannot “do” population health without the goal of helping people adopt and sustain behavior change; otherwise, it’s an exercise in data play and not meaningful healthcare engagement that drives toward the Triple Aim of improving healthcare for people, boosting public health, and reducing per capita costs.

While we are not nearly at the smartly networked, autonomous vehicle era of healthcare, many innovators at HIMSS 2017 are developing the building blocks to getting there. The best of them are focusing on the patient and consumer underpinned by user-centered design and a ruthless focus on peoples’ values and their social determinants of health (the topic of my HIMSS talk on Social Health IT tomorrow 21 Feb. at 830 am – see you in Room W307A!).

“This is design that keeps people healthy,” Tas wrote in his blog on the hospital of the future. “We will need to reimagine our physical spaces — both from a technology as well as a design perspective.”

Stay tuned to the Health Populi blog all this week for more observations on HIMSS 2017. On Tuesday 21st February, I’ll tell you about my conversation with Dr. Roy Schoenberg of American Well.