HIMSS 2013: Day 1 Keynote – Optimism and Collaboration are Vital to the Future Healthcare

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Author: Rich Pulvino, Social Media & Digital Media Specialist

HIMSS Keynote

As described in the HIMSS13 guide, Warner Thomas is focused on addressing the changes initiated in the Affordable Care Act and health insurance reformation. His organization, Ochsner, is an eight-hospital, nonprofit, academic, multi-specialty healthcare delivery system. Prior to his role as CEO, he held the position of president and COO, leading the organization’s effort in building its own hospital system by acquiring six hospitals, which led to Ochsner’s current status.

In his HIMSS13 keynote address on day one of the conference, Thomas spent a bit time talking about the city of New Orleans and the state of revival and improvement it has been in since Hurricane Katrina hit. As devastating as the storm was, he touched on how it served as an impetus of change for the city, which is currently thriving. The city’s public schools were in poor shape before the storm. Now, New Orleans is a national model for education reform based on its large volume of charter schools. Thomas likened this change to what he is seeing in healthcare and IT throughout the city and state too.

Thomas’s focus on healthcare IT started with a comparison to the airline industry, which went through massive changes in the last decade compared to its state in the 1990’s. The number of people who fly increased dramatically, yet the number of people employed in the airline industry decreased by about 10,000. In a way, that’s what happening with healthcare—more care is needed for more people (especially as the baby boomers enter and approach retirement), yet there are fewer people providing the care. That’s where healthcare IT comes in.

For success to be seen in healthcare IT, and healthcare as a whole, collaboration and optimism is a must. Healthcare organizations cannot bury their heads in the sand if they hope to address the changes, because these changes are going to happen whether they like it or not. To show how technology can lead the charge, in addition to the airlines, Thomas brought up comparisons to the banking and retail industries–both which addressed changes by focusing on online technologies and being where the consumers are. Airlines now allow people to register for flights and print out their boarding passed themselves; ATMs and online banking allow people to fulfill their banking needs without waiting in line for a teller, and retailers now rely on big data related to purchasing behaviors so that they can understand their customers and provide them with the products or services that they need most.

When talking about healthcare, Thomas has noticed that patients want three things: more mobile access, faster care, and more affordable care. He asked why patients aren’t signing into clinics and physician offices with a tablet so that they can enter their medical history and allow it easily be stored. Electronic medical records and access to those records will be a major component of that change. With the Affordable Care Act serving as change agent to the industry, Thomas called for medical professionals to have greater access to insurance claims data so that they have more complete patient information. He said that in today’s healthcare industry, if a patient goes to another clinic, then the insurance claim should be updated automatically.

Thomas left his keynote with a big, yet vital, challenge to healthcare IT executives: Learn what your patients want and provide it to them, while cutting costs and improving the quality care. That may seem like a mouthful, but with insurance and healthcare costs rising with no end in sight, this is exactly the kind of change that needs to happen. Technology is leading the charge for this change and it is up to IT to collaborate with other departments to ensure that these new systems are providing patients with the affordable, quality care that they deserve.

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