Two Steps Forward on AI, But a Step Back for Cybersecurity: Top Takeaways from HIMSS24

3 minute read

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy told HIMSS attendees “it’s kind of nutty” that his future grandchildren will look back on this era of healthcare as being shockingly behind the times, even as much of the discussion at HIMSS focused on progress: rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and new insights into social determinants of health and the factors that impact health equity, among others.

But there was nothing nutty about the recent cyberattack on our health system that strangled the flow of a huge proportion of pharmacy orders and put a halt to processing billions of dollars in claims. For me, it further reinforced that digital fax still has a very relevant place in healthcare.

When the nation’s largest healthcare billing and care authorization system, which processes 15 billion transactions a year, is held captive by cyber thieves, the fallout raises questions about how to protect the industry from cyberattacks. It also underscores the continued need for pragmatic tech that provides another pathway for critical communications when advanced systems fall prey to bad actors. 

In this instance, digital fax gives healthcare providers, pharmacies, and health plans another avenue for sending and receiving prescriptions and claims. And, when combined with AI and natural language processing, these unstructured documents can be transformed into structured data, supporting information transfer directly within pharmacist and clinician workflows. It’s a topic my colleague Bevey Miner discusses in her recent blog.

Among other hot topics discussed at HIMSS, two resonated with me:

  • We’re reaching beyond prediction to adoption in our expectations for AI in healthcare. Healthcare staffing shortages and budget pressures have put healthcare organizations under tremendous strain—likely a reason why hospitals and health systems, long a late-adopter when it comes to technological advancements, are at least open to kicking the tires on AI in care. But unlike last year, when the buzz centered on predictions for AI use cases, this year’s conference featured numerous discussions around the need for AI guardrails in healthcare. Few organizations have established governance models for AI, according to a KLAS Research survey, but it’s clear from remarks made by healthcare providers that such models are coming.

    There was also more of an emphasis on the need to be strategic with AI applications in health systems. This sentiment is captured in a comment one chief medical information officer made to KLAS: “The release of ChatGPT sparked a conversation around how we are going to utilize AI in our organization. It has led me to pay a lot more attention to where we are using AI already as a system and to think strategically about how we can use AI to help us do our jobs.”

  • There is widespread acknowledgment of the ways in which healthcare interoperability is vital to health equity. We heard from health systems across the country on the ways that shared data—including around social determinants of health—are making a difference for population health management in vulnerable communities, including a health system in New Jersey that uses data from health partners to identify patients who are most in need of health intervention. It’s an approach that has enabled the health system to significantly increase the use of primary and specialty care among this patient population, leading to $4 million in savings through decreased utilization of emergency and inpatient care.

    But if we are to reach a point where health systems can access all the data they need to improve health and health equity, we must acknowledge the existence of “tech inequity” among healthcare’s digital have-nots: those that did not receive financial incentives to implement electronic health records. These organizations include post-acute care providers, skilled nursing facilities, substance use disorder clinics, birthing centers, and behavioral health services clinics, to name a few.

    By recognizing the need for these facilities to have pragmatic tech solutions to share vital data—and working together to develop the right solutions—we can make a significant difference for health equity, care access, and health outcomes.