Despite what you might have heard, artificial intelligence and blockchain weren’t the biggest topics at HIMSS ’18. They were big, sure, along with cybersecurity and innovation in general. But according to Linda Stotsky, the biggest splash came at the very beginning of the conference when patients walked in the door.

Stotsky has over two decades of experience in health and healthcare, with particular expertise on systems and services. She started as a practice administrator, then moved into the electronic medical record (EMR) world for several years. Today she is a consultant with an emphasis on marketing. With all that, Stotsky is deeply embedded in the health IT world, and joined us on The Future of Health to talk about what’s going on in that world based on the events at HIMSS ’18.

Because of that background, it was interesting when Stotsky glossed over the tech side of the event (and, by extension, health IT in general) and moved directly into a conversation about the new patient presence in Las Vegas. Those patients showed up because HIMSS and the Society for Participatory Medicine joined forces to give patients a free pass – and, in some cases, travel stipends – to attend and be part of the conversation. That move, Stotsky contends, brought a new type of “expert insight” that had been missing in previous conferences. In fact, the whole tone of the event changed.

“[T]his year the paradigm was shifted immediately with the patient voice included, because once the patient voice is included the pressure to be politically correct vanishes. And there’s honesty regarding obstacles and barriers […]”

Pointing out how unique patient involvement was to this year’s HIMSS meeting raised the question of why, across the industry, healthcare hasn’t been very good at getting the end-users involved.

“Patients were really left out of the conversation. Due to either professional membership barriers or just the rising cost of registration […]  I think that a lot of times these conferences have inhibited patients from attending [because of the cost].”

Stotsky hopes that reducing these barriers once will help set an industry-wide precedent. Not just to have token patients to parade on stage, but because “there’s going to be a better diversity at the table and there’s going to be better decision-making.”

What does “better decision-making” mean? What were patients on stage at HIMSS saying?

“They added usability of health systems. Let’s just take patient portals for example. Most patients don’t use patient portals. They’re intrusive. Maybe someone doesn’t have broadband. It’s a very, a segmented part of the population that actually uses a patient portal. And when they are used, sometimes it’s very difficult to understand the information presented. […] So having patients there at the table to say, ‘I don’t understand what you’re giving me. I’d like to participate in my care, but I’d like actionable insight into my disease, into actionable steps that I can take to improve my clinical outcomes, and I’d like you to listen to me and hear me not just for my disease, but as a person to somewhat to humanize my care.“

In one instance, a patient and a clinician were on stage together, having this discussion. It was, Stotsky said, a good debate with both types of user represented.

The conversation ended on an inspirational note, one which will be familiar to anyone involved with Health:Further or our friends and collaborators. Stotsky brought the conversation around to the idea of community. Or, rather, she pointed out that it’s not an idea but a reality.

“I came away from HIMSS this year just feeling an enormous level of hope that was palpable throughout the conference. But also that was missing in previous years. Innovation took center stage this year, the usability and design of our systems and services were major themes. And I felt like we had a stronger community at HIMSS ’18 than in previous years. One filled with passion and purpose to get stuff done. And I think that this year more than any other year in my attendance, I felt as if we’re beginning to be aligned on the right track to improvements.”

Throughout the conversation, Stotsky highlighted people and groups who are working in healthcare innovation, but doing so from a human-centric mentality. Rasu Shrestha, Chief Innovation Officer at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the Pink Socks movement took top billing. She emphasized the “doers” who understand the technical and business requirements of building a more efficient health system, but who are also “listening to each other and supporting each other and just stopping for a moment and talking to another individual.“

Again, it’s a recurring theme: We can build healthcare technology, innovating into the next great thing. But it only matters if it works for, and not against, our natural behavior and desires.

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