Reflections on HIMSS14: health IT and the evolution of the horseless carriage

The new challenge is clear: we need to create tools that become seamless and disappear into the background of the care setting.

Last week, thousands of HIMSS14-goers saw innovative technologies and new offerings designed to improve patient outcomes and healthcare efficiencies.  We have, without a doubt, come a long way in health IT, but it is clear that we still have miles to go.

When I think about healthcare technology, I think about my car engine.  Although not very pretty, it is vital to helping me be productive and get where I need.  I am not overly interested in the detailed mechanics involved, I just want to make sure when I turn my key, the engine fires up, performs reliably, and enables me to get on with my day.  It’s what we, as consumers have come to expect, and what clinicians and users deserve.

But this wasn’t always such a smooth experience.  Drivers used to have to manually crack their engines to get them started.  Certainly not the most efficient or user-friendly method, but at the time it was the only way to start your car.  And then two engineers from General Motors changed everything with the invention of the electrical starter motor ignition.  Suddenly, car owners’ expectations changed.

After HIMSS14, it was clear that we have turned the corner with health tech, from crank to auto-start, but there is still labor for the end-users.  The new challenge is clear:  we need to create tools that become seamless and disappear into the background of the care setting.  These turn-key solutions will be the pivotal moment in our industry that change how physicians are able to provide care to their patients.  And that will be the day when we look back and say “how did we ever do things any other way?”

At Nuance’s breakfast panel at HIMSS, one of the CMIOs asked, “When is healthcare going to have a MIDI moment?” referring to a breakthrough that allowed musicians to connect to other devices seamlessly– enabling them to “plug and play.”  That simplicity is in my garage, and in my house in the form of a WII that took two minutes to set up.  I believe there are vast numbers of physicians and patients who need that simplicity in healthcare today.  We as consumers of healthcare need to continue pushing the boundaries of this with HIT, and we will all benefit in the future.