The Marvelous Land of Oz: The HIMSS Interoperability Showcase

As I walked the floor of the HIMSS Interoperability Showcase, listening to the tour guide’s carnie-esque pitch on the wonders awaiting me with each successive use case encounter, I ALMOST wished I hadn’t worked with so many of the organizations hawking their wares. It’s a bit sad to know the man behind the curtain, to realize that The Great and Powerful Oz is simply a man with a highly mechanized presentation. But that knowledge gives me insight that others attending the Showcase may not have had – and validation that, in the end, Oz IS Great and Powerful, even though he’s just a man.

There were 20 specific interoperability use cases represented at HIMSS this year, collectively, by 101 vendors. In order to qualify to participate, each of the organizations had to successfully demonstrate proficiency with their chosen use case at the Connectathon event in Chicago. In January. In a basement the size of a football field. Packed shoulder-to-shoulder with your closest competitors at high school-cafeteria tables. Talk about a frigid atmosphere!

Perhaps to stay warm, perhaps to pass the time, perhaps in the pursuit of the patient-centric design principles the healthcare industry espouses publicly yet so seldom seems to put into practice, cross-company collaboration occurs. Competitors converge on each others’ laptops, debugging code, refining business rules and algorithms. Functional use cases emerge, success stories are shared, everyone goes home happy with a list of enhancements to incorporate before the main event at HIMSS. The frantic rush to prep for Connectathon is amplified by the urgency and importance of HIMSS. The ONC is watching! Your competitors are watching! The 40K HIMSS attendees will be watching!

Invariably, the use cases are perfected in the weeks leading up to HIMSS, each click carefully orchestrated, each transition scripted, all parties putting forth their best effort to insure success for the spectators – many of whom are clients, prospects, regulatory officials, or journalists seeking The Next Big Healthcare Thing to go viral in the blogosphere. The yellow brick road is constructed, and as one walks its length, the carefully choreographed demonstrations come to life with compelling tales: “Keeping a Newborn Safe,” “Improving Pediatric Care,” “Optimizing Cancer Care,” “Beneficiary Enrollment.” The show goes on, and it’s a good one – albeit with the occasional glimpse of the man behind the curtain.

The perfectly nice gentleman manning the Federal Health Architecture booth seemed eager to demonstrate the capability to request and retrieve a patient’s medical record from multiple HIEs and disparate EMRs. He walked me through the provider portal view, showed me how he could see that there were multiple medical records available for this patient across providers, and talked me through each click up until the print button. Print?

“Aren’t you importing the records into the requesting EMR?” I asked.

“No. Right now, they have to print each set of records.”

“So, each time this scenario presents itself, the provider has to click on each available external record, print multiple pages, compare notes across screen and paper, and later choose whether to manually update his own EMR with the other information?”

The perfectly nice gentleman suddenly seemed uncomfortable. The Great and Powerful Oz, exposed as mere mortal, Oscar Zoroaster Diggs. You’d think I’d know when to quit.

“The standards and technology exist to do CCD discrete data import, and a couple of the large EMR vendors are implementing that capability for high Medicare population IDNs. How does it make the provider more efficient, and give the patient more face-time with his doctor, if we’re still printing and no data consolidation or reconciliation is happening prior to point-of-care? Why didn’t you extend the use case to show end state?”

He assured me that they’re working on it, and we made a deal that NEXT year, I’ll come back and he’ll walk me through their progress towards discrete data import. No printing, he promised. I’m going to hold him to it.

Aside from this specific use case, across the Marvelous Land of Oz, what I’d REALLY love to see next year: the basement Connectathon advancements made to support the use cases for HIMSS actually incorporated into the products. As part of the qualifying criteria for repeat showcase exhibitors, have them demonstrate the capabilities developed in prior years actually functioning in the marketplace under general release. That would be a substantial improvement on this year’s long jump attempt for the Interoperability Showcase.

I want to fall in love with the hard-working man behind the curtain, not the showy pyrotechnics.