HIMSS13 wrap-up: The news you may have missed

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In this special issue of FierceHealthIT, you'll find exclusive interviews and coverage of the 2013 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference, held in New Orleans last week. But we couldn't fit all the news from the show in one issue if we had an exhibit-hall-sized shoehorn. So here are some of the stories you may have missed.   

There was plenty of government news at HIMSS13, although as FierceHealthIT predicted prior to the conference, no agency unveiled any major initiatives or new deadlines, much to the relief of CIOs, who already have full plates, thank you very much.

Of course, the government sequestration news was very much on everyone's mind, including National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, who said it will be a painful blow to the Meaningful Use Medicare incentive program. Medicare reimbursements are set to be reduced by 2 percent, a total that, according to Mostashari, will take roughly $3 million away from ONC's budget.

At another event, Mostashari and acting Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Marilyn Tavenner said that the federal government wants 50 percent of physician offices to use electronic health records--and 80 percent of eligible hospitals receiving Meaningful Use incentive dollars--by the end of this year.

Tavenner and Mostashari outlined the government's agenda for ensuring that providers will continue to adopt information technology with a goal of care improvement.

Attendees of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives' CIO Forum also heard from Judy Murphy, R.N., deputy national coordinator for program and policy at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, who said that technology has laid the groundwork for better patient care and workflow, but also said it must be the means to the end--not the end itself.

Stage 2 of Meaningful Use has given interoperability efforts a "kick in the pants," Murphy (right) added. But although there is a strong business case for it, she said, it's been more difficult to execute than expected.  

Attendees also heard from President Bill Clinton, who talked about the great potential for IT to fix healthcare, not only on a clinical level, but at a foundational level, as well.

"Eventually, almost every major system gets long in the tooth," he said in a keynote address. "We have all these horse-and-buggy systems and people hanging onto a lack of transparency … but there's nothing we can't fix. The whole promise of IT is that we can manage data in ways that we never could before … so that we don't have unexamined lives of unexamined healthcare systems."

Cardiologist Eric Topol, a professor of genomics at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego and author of "The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care," also delivered a keynote address. In an exclusive interview with FierceHealthIT, he talked about physician adoption of Health IT and genome sequencing and the future of hospitals, social media and accountability.

FierceHealthIT also talked to Russell Branzell, CEO of Fort Collins, Colo.-based Colorado Health Medical Group and new CHIME CEO, about the changing roles, responsibilities and core competencies of today's healthcare CIO--and how CIOs can take their careers to the next level by taking a seat at the executive leadership table.

If there was a shorter-than-usual list of government stories this year, vendor news more than made up for that.

The big news: A group of competing electronic health record vendors agreed to work together to promote data exchange standards across their systems--and welcome all other EMR vendors to join them.

The companies--Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth and Greenway Medical Technologies--announced they have formed a nonprofit organization called the CommonWell Health Alliance to facilitate data exchange.

Noticeably absent from the unveiling was EMR giant Epic--but harsh words soon followed. Epic CEO Judy Faulkner said her company had not been asked to participate and that the collaboration appears to be an attempt to compete with her Verona, Wis.-based company.

"It appears on the surface to be used as a competitive weapon and that's just wrong," Faulkner told Bloomberg. "It's wrong for the country."

Epic's Chief Operating Officer Carl Dvorak called CommonWell a "marketing opportunity" and added that Epic won't likely join the alliance and called for a national standard.

Meanwhile, in slightly less dramatic vendor news, athenahealth responded to the National Coordinator for Health IT's call for vendors to "step up" by proposing its own code of conduct at HIMSS13. The company also set up an online portal where peer vendors, physicians and other stakeholders can sign up in support of the code.

And a new service from Verizon announced at the show will allow doctors nationwide to securely exchange medical information electronically. The technology is currently in "beta stage," Chief Medical Officer Peter Tippett said at a press conference at the show.

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