HIMSS 2019: What Innovation and Interoperability Mean for the Health Insurance Industry

HIMSS is one of the largest annual health care events and every year we look forward to attending. It’s a good chance to get a pulse on where the health industry is today and which topics and priorities are being emphasized for the coming year. This year’s theme happened to be right in line with HealthSparq’s mission, with a focus on helping patients become champions of their own health – and health care. Speakers from across the industry, including policy makers, clinicians and patient advocates, offered their insights and perspectives on the state of health care in 2019, with this common theme:  Let’s change health care and put patients at the center of their individual health journeys.

Here are a few of messages I took away from this year’s HIMSS conference:

Patients’ Access to Data Takes Center Stage

The topic of a patient’s access to their individual health data was a major aspect of HIMSS this year. Harold F. Wolf, President and CEO of HIMSS, opened the conference with three questions regarding a person’s personal health data to set the stage:

  • Who owns it?
  • Who has access to it?
  • Who can use it?

These questions teed up Seema Verma, Administrator of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), who announced “new rules to support seamless and secure access, exchange, and use of electronic health information.” These proposed rules come after the successful launch of Blue Button 2.0, which gives 53 million Medicare beneficiaries control over their health care data.

It also comes at a time where $1 out of $5 in the United States will be spent on health care. Although price transparency isn’t new to health insurance companies, it’s still a difficult challenge to solve. CMS’ push to transparency and patient control of data is a major step forward but requires technology and collaboration between providers and insurance providers to make happen. This kind of collaboration has become standard in nearly every other sector in 2019 and this will be the interoperability of health care.

Yep, Blockchain in Health Care

The discussion around blockchain in health care continues, and the use cases are becoming more refined. A blockchain luncheon with presentations by many top health care brands outlined strategies for both streamlined payments between payers and providers and for cleaning up provider and patient data to eliminate duplicate records.

It’s worth noting that blockchain is still in very early stages. There is some confusion about where to focus efforts and the industry is still exploring how blockchain can deliver real value in health care. In 2019, I anticipate we’ll simply see the industry stay in the exploration stages when it comes to blockchain to see if the technology will actually make transactions more efficient or secure.

Virtual Health Care Discussion Takes a Backseat

At past HIMSS conferences and events, telehealth was a major topic. While it certainly wasn’t missing from HIMSS 2019, it was clear that the topic was no longer at the center of the conversation. It’s interesting to consider where telehealth has gone over the last few years and how it has evolved. Telehealth holds enormous promise but continues to be plagued by delays in realizing wide spread adoption. Telehealth platforms are now focused on access to care for specific social economic populations, veterans, and those in need of behavioral health services, as they work to increase adoption to help lower health care costs and make care more accessible for all.

Common Medical Terminology and Patient Matching

A couple interesting problems to hit the stage this year (and which we happen to be continually working through here at HealthSparq) were the need to agree on common medical terms and to address conflicting patient IDs.

As patients continue to have expanded access to their health records, they need to be able to understand that data. Confusing, non-standard medical terminology isn’t helpful to the average patient. Unfortunately, these confusing terms are widespread in nearly all aspects of their health care and is an issue that we look forward to seeing addressed more head-on this year.

Resolving the issue of conflicting patient IDs will be required if we want to be able to truly make individuals owners of their health data. If there are multiple patient records under different IDs for a single patient (the current norm in the industry), it will remain a major challenge to consolidate those records into a streamlined view. Until there are universal patient IDs, there will continue to be challenges in delivering a single view of a patient.

We’re looking forward to even more great discussions on these topics in 2019 as we continue helping health care users gain access to their benefits data and use health information in new ways to improve access to quality care and give people more confidence as they navigate their options.