The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) is holding their annual technology conference on February 29th through March 4th. The conference brings together the best and the brightest to discuss the big developments and emerging trends in healthcare IT.

NetApp’s Healthcare solutions marketing lead, Monty Zarrouk, and Spencer Hamons, CHCIO, FACHE, Regional Chief Information Officer for NetApp’s Healthcare Division, sat down with GovDataDownload to talk about the big issues facing healthcare organizations and healthcare payers and how IT can help them provide better patient care and customer interaction. 

Here’s what Monty and Spencer had to say.

GovDataDownload (GDD): You’re headed to HIMSS soon; what makes this conference a must-attend on your list?

monty zarroukMonty Zarrouk (MZ): HIMSS is one of those rare opportunities where thousands of healthcare professionals come together to break bread and discuss the challenges of modern healthcare and the change that the industry has been experiencing. Even though healthcare is focused on patient care, it’s a field in which IT is being used to bring about significant changes.  In many ways, healthcare IT professionals are out there on the cutting edge as we lead the way in large scale cloud implementations to support the movement to Electronic Health Records (EHR).

Because we’re all focused on healthcare and patient outcomes, the organization we work for doesn’t matter in the same way it might in other fields.  CIOs and CEOs of healthcare organizations of all sizes come to HIMSS to learn, collaborate, and put their heads together to discuss challenges, solutions and critical business processes.  The level of collaboration and networking at HIMSS is, in my experience, unique.

spencer hamonsSpencer Hamons (SH) One of the things I find valuable is that because HIMSS brings so many healthcare IT professionals together, other meetings take place around the conference dates, making the week an invaluable learning experience.  Just before the main HIMSS show gets underway, the College of Healthcare Managers and Executives (CHIME) hosts their CIO forum.  This paves the way for many of the discussions we have at HIMSS and frames the conversation not only for the event but for months to come.  It’s also helpful for C-level IT executives to use the information they gather at the CHIME forum to frame their conversations with the more than 1,300 vendors that will be on the HIMSS show floor.

HIMSS really does represent an opportunity to discover emerging technologies that will enable healthcare organizations to deliver better patient care.

GDD: Hospitals and other health facilities are entering a new era, what challenges are they going to face as IT continues to evolve and shape delivery of patient care?  How does a show like HIMSS help address these challenges?

SH: There are many challenges for healthcare professionals these days. The industry is in a period of great change – from government regulation to the on-going migration to EHRs.

Other challenges I expect to hear CIOS discussing relate to HIPAA and how to secure centralized clinical data and protected health information (PHI).  Elements like cloud adoption will also be a topic of discussion, I would wager. Ultimately, Health IT challenges are really complex and the end goal for everyone is to redesign the IT data center to keep pace with IT growth and government regulation.

HIMSS is one of those events where attendees can learn just about anything relevant to the healthcare industry. However, the flip-side of that coin is there is just so much information that it can be overwhelming for new attendees; there are dozens of solution for every challenge a healthcare organization might face and each organization has unique factors which they need to take into account when evaluating a vendor’s offering.  My advice to a new attendee would be to keep your organization’s priorities top of mind and develop a plan ahead of time on which tracks to follow to help make the most of your time at the show.

Veteran attendees have a pretty good understanding of the event and so they often leverage their time at HIMSS in discovering great ideas from industry peers and exploring alternative paths. HIMSS is information sharing taken to the max!

GDD: What IT trends do you and the other attendees expect to be the focus this year?

MZ:  The big four are: big data analytics, data security, data privacy, and the cloud.  These elements represent new trends and technologies that healthcare professionals have to be cognizant of in order to truly improve upon patient care. As a result, I expect to hear a great deal of discussion surrounding those topics.

Consider data security, for example; it’s estimated that nearly half of all data breaches in 2015 happened in healthcare organizations.  These breaches don’t happen because the healthcare IT teams are not good at security, but because their organizations are leading the way in migrating data to the digital realm.  Also the type of data collected – Protected Health Information, known as PHI – is so valuable, from the completeness of records to the fact that it can be used to initiative fraudulent claims against insurers.

The continued uptick in data breaches will make HIMSS especially important this year.   In the past we were only able to discuss security and potential breaches in theory. But with the increased number of breaches experienced recently, I expect to see demonstration of real-world protocols and real-world methods for managing privacy and security.

Another pain point for Healthcare IT is hesitancy about moving to the cloud.  As security continues to gain momentum and as more organizations explore platforms like data fabric, cloud adoption will increase as well. Even here data security plays a vital role to a successful cloud migration especially when it comes to managing and maintaining patient data.

GDD: Can you share with us one IT solution that is essential for healthcare providers to educate themselves on?

SH: There isn’t just one technology that attendees need to educate themselves on. Although we are all doing similar work at each institution, each institution’s needs and challenges are unique, which results in the need for distinctive, customized strategies.  Assure the vendors that are offering solutions for your consideration have the staff with the expertise in the field to truly understand your problems, what makes your organization unique, and can design a customer solution based upon your needs.  While foundational elements of a solution may be one-size-fits-all, the overall solution must be designed to truly solve your problems.

What I would suggest when evaluating a technology is that attendees consider how that technology is going to improve the care that we deliver to  need to think about how a specific technology impacts one patient, then how it impacts a group of patients, and so on. Because again, as an industry, if we continue to shift our focus to how these technologies can improve patient care, great enhancement will follow in several other areas organically.

MZ: At the top of my list is data fabric.  Data fabric and the options it offers are instrumental to improved patient care. For example, data fabric, to me, is the equivalent of the Health Information Exchange (HIE), in that it allows data to flow seamlessly to wherever the clinicians need it most—on-premise or in the cloud.

The choice of selecting the correct mix of private and public cloud service and maintaining seamless data mobility is less challenging with a data fabric solution. IT solutions similar to data fabric enable pivotal change in business process for healthcare.

GDD: Anything else you’d like to share?

SH: NetApp’s healthcare team is a very interesting group of people with over 100 years of experience combined in our leadership team. In the booth, we will have compelling stories to share including demonstrations of AltaVault®, flash and FlexPod®. Our team has worked in the healthcare industry all across the country, from Texas, California, the Mid-West, the South, and even in Alaska. Even if you aren’t in the market for data management solutions, please come by and let’s share some stories.

MZ: Come out and see us at booth #4874!

Still need to register for HIMSS 2016? Click here for event details.  Want to prep for the event?  You can read NetApp’s data security reference guide for Healthcare here  You can follow what’s going on at the show on Twitter using the hashtag #NetAppHIMSS.