Highlights from HIMSS23 – Interoperability is No Longer A Buzzword

Like many of you, I’m just back from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Chicago and still filled with excitement.

According to HIMSS, more than 35,000 attended the annual event, a 25% increase over the previous year. The entire show floor was on fire with energy and the feeling that we’ve finally turned a corner from the pandemic. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Interoperability Showcase, where Consensus Cloud Solutions demonstrated: “Document Burden Reduction — Fax on FHIR.”

Healthcare often relies on digital faxes and PDFs to share patient information, but before the digital faxes can be effectively integrated into a patient’s chart, further processing is needed. That means staff or clinicians have to manually type vital information from the fax or PDF to ensure it can be consumed with structured data — a lengthy process that’s prone to error. Digitally faxed documents are just unstructured images unless structured data can be extracted using new technologies.

In the showcase, Consensus team members demonstrated how our integrated solutions, Clarity and Conductor, improve continuity of care and ensure that all care settings can effectively share data from a PDF (faxed document) to a FHIR(R) message. Both the sending and receiving ends all need to work together efficiently to create effective workflows.

I saw a lot of live demonstrations from organizations that sit in the middle of making healthcare data usable and actionable. I loved the use cases from referral management to public health reporting. Many of these examples are supporting public and private initiatives to help solve some of the problems that our lawmakers and policy leaders are also advocating.

Automating the Referral Process

The Consensus panel discussion during HIMSS, “Using AI and Modern Fax Capabilities to Reduce Administrative Burden,” featured a payer, a provider and two vendors working in partnership to solve some of the most challenging areas of healthcare interoperability. I was fortunate to moderate the discussion, which included Frank Toscano from Consensus, Deb Buenaflor from business services provider Forcura, Nick Stupakis, vice president at Helion (a subsidiary of Highmark Health), and Nick Reiser, COO at Interim HealthCare, a homecare agency with locations in 42 states.

The composition of the panel shows that solving common challenges such as streamlining the referral process requires true partnership among multiple technology partners. Physical data entry is where the referral process breaks down. You’ve got nurses who are not practicing at their highest level because they’re typing in patient information. The panel, with standing room attendance, represented a collaborative discussion on how technology and new thinking around business processes can solve this problem. The back and forth from provider to payer was particularly engaging.

Advancing Interoperability and Prior Authorization Rules to Come

This year CMS did not announce a final rule of sorts, which they have done in the past at HIMSS causing the industry to rush and read hundreds of pages of rule language. There are a few proposed rules looming that are on a number of stakeholder’s agendas. The Advanced Interoperability and PA proposed rule received nearly 1,000 comments, which will require CMS to digest the disposition from all types
of stakeholders.

Even without that frenzy activity, a good deal of conversation was happening in education sessions and pre-conference forums around the use of standards like FHIR. Lawmakers and advocacy organizations crowded the stage trying to bring clarity around TEFCA, QHINs and other CMS/ONC initiatives. There are more questions than answers to many of these new programs. And I’m sure, as we have seen in the past, it will take time and innovative approaches before we know how this all shakes out.

I will be following these initiatives and stakeholder advocacy in future blogs to try and remove the buzz and get down to what’s real, representing all types of care settings and technologies that can help move the industry to true interoperability and demonstrate meaningful change.