Breaking News: HIMSS20 canceled; Naidex update; what is the outlook for other major conferences? (updated)

UPDATED 5 and 12 March

At 12.25 pm today, according to an email visible on HISTalk, HIMSS has canceled HIMSS20. This cancellation is the first in the 58-year history of the conference.

Quick facts are on HISTalk at the link above, on the HIMSS announcement, and on their FAQs.

The advisory panel recognized that industry understanding of the potential reach of the virus has changed significantly in the last 24 hours, which has made it impossible to accurately assess risk. Additionally, there are concerns about disproportionate risk to the healthcare system given the unique medical profile of Global Conference attendees and the consequences of potentially displacing healthcare workers during a critical time, as well as stressing the local health systems were there to be an adverse event.

Also from the announcement: “HIMSS20 exhibitors and attendees will be contacted with further information regarding booth contracts and registrations. Please contact exhibitors@himss.org for immediate booth concerns.”

The CHIME (College of Healthcare Information Management Executives)/HIMSS CIO Forum symposium on Sunday 8th-Monday 9th is also canceled, per a comment on HISTalk. The only indicator on their website as of now is a large ‘CANCELLED’ on their event list. Later this month is the 5G Executive Forum on 25-26 March in Plano, Texas; is that now being reevaluated?

Neither will be rescheduled for this year. Further chatter on the 3/6 HISTalk centers on what to do with all the promotional items and after-action assessments of losses to marketing and sales. There are companies which center their annual budget and marketing efforts on HIMSS, perhaps not the best ‘eggs in one basket’ strategy, but one that many follow. Hat tip to HISTalk and their ace staff

For our UK and European Readers, Naidex is one of the largest conferences for independent living and healthcare. So far, it is on at Birmingham NEC from 17–18 March, they are taking a long list of precautions based on guidelines set by the WHO and local authorities, but according to their site statement by the event director, it is a fast-moving situation and may change based on those advisories. POSTPONED 10 March–see 12 March update.

Original article follows:

There is a growing list of exhibitor and attendee cancellations for HIMSS20 in Orlando, Florida, starting next Monday the 9th. HIMSS is one of the largest global healthcare conferences, and is a ‘must attend’ for a wide swath of healthcare-related companies, including clinical and monitoring technologies, software from the giants (Microsoft, Cisco) to the startups, hospital systems, payers, telecoms, and all sorts of governmental entities like CMS. (When the opening keynote speaker is President Trump, you know it’s important.)

Health IT website HISTalk, a regular exhibitor at HIMSS, has been tracking the cancellations as of today, doing their own research and following reader leads and public announcements, with a follow up article dated tomorrow. It’s well above 50, with major companies like Humana, Siemens, IBM, and the aforementioned Cisco and Microsoft, on the list. Modern Healthcare has an update.

Based on the comments and HIMSS’ own advisory, HIMSS is accepting cancellations from the CDC’s Level 3 or 4 alert countries, but other cancellations are not being refunded (likely pushed to 2021). Hotels/airlines may not be refundable based upon policies and the clout of travel bookers. Onsite, HIMSS is preparing onsite medical offices for care and screening, as well as promoting the HIMSS elbow bump in lieu of the handshake. It’s regrettable as there are hundreds of staff involved year to year who are responsible for all the planning, marketing, logistics, and security for HIMSS and any conference of this size.

The major reason? Many companies, including healthcare companies, have indefinitely canceled non-essential travel across the board for the next 30 to 60 days as a matter of institutional policy. The large destination conferences taking place March-June are the most affected by this. Consider that for the immunocompromised, attending any large conference is dicey, but COVID-19 is one large red flag.

IBM has canceled Think 2020 in May, which regularly attracts 30,000 attendees to San Francisco. Mobile World Congress Barcelona, the largest in the telecom sector which crosses over to mobile-based healthcare, canceled two weeks before starting on 24 February. The American Physical Society (physics) canceled this week’s conference in Denver the day before it started. The LA Times has a roll call of canceled conferences including Facebook and Google I/O. Others remain on, but monitoring the situation:  the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress on 23 March and EPIC 2020 in Croatia 19-21 March [TTA 16 Jan].

Small, local conferences and meetings are the least affected, so you’re probably safe in London and NYC. The King’s Fund has a full roster of London meetings, including the Digital Health and Care Congress 2020 on 20-21 May. Upcoming are also DHACA Day on 18 March and the NYC meetings listed last week. (Don’t go if you’re sick, steer clear of the inconsiderate, avoid buffets, and wash your hands!)

HISTalk’s 5 March article (scroll down) reports on the findings from the leader of the WHO team which spent two weeks in China studying their COVID-19 response. China is moving patients from their best hospitals to ‘routine care’ to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Children do not seem to become infected or be carriers. The trend in infection there is trending down. Overall, it seems to be a series of global outbreaks, not a global pandemic. And they came away with a fatality rate in China of 1-2 percent, which seems low based on other reports.

EHR system-generated emails/inbasket messages contributing to burnout in 36% of doctors: study

That crispy feeling is real. Unlike the overflowing paper forms, charts, and faxes of olden days (!), doctors and clinical staff now not only deal with paper, but also with what physicians call their ‘electronic masters’. The volume is astounding and has led to numerous studies of physician burnout. One of the latest has been published in Health Affairs (free access), a directional study which will not cheer up anyone concerned with doctor health and retention in the field.

A study of over 900 physicians at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation found that almost half (114, 47 percent) of the 243 weekly in-basket messages received per physician, on average, were algorithmically generated out of their Epic EHR. This far exceeded emails from colleagues (53), from themselves (31, e.g. reports), and patients (30). Other findings from the study:

  • 36 percent of the physicians reported burnout symptoms
  • 29 percent intended to reduce their clinical work time in the upcoming year
  • 45 percent with burnout symptoms received greater-than-average numbers of weekly EHR-generated in-basket messages
  • Receiving more than the average number of system-generated in-basket messages was associated with 40 percent higher probability of burnout and 38 percent higher probability of intending to reduce clinical work time
  • EHR message volume was highest for internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics

While this is only one group of physicians in one location, and limited by specialties,this excerpt from the concluding discussion tends to say nearly all:

Therefore, both perceived and realized loss of autonomy over their work schedules could leave physicians feeling defeated, even though some of these system-generated messages have been shown to improve certain processes of care for patients with chronic illnesses.

Health care organizations need to reconsider some of their approaches to improving the quality of care and population health. Physicians might not be the most appropriate recipients of some system-generated messages. Payers and government regulators may need to be part of the solution in enabling physicians to practice at the top of their license. EHR design engineers also need to reconsider whether system-generated automatic messages are the best way to ensure quality of care. It may be time to examine whether every reminder to order routine chronic disease management lab tests (for example, periodic glycosylated hemoglobin A1c tests) must be signed and placed by a physician.

Health care organizations may benefit from engaging with their physicians in creating optimal policies on email work, in addition to helping them with such work. (e.g delegation to non-physician clinicians–Ed.)

Add to that phone calls and endless prior authorizations from insurers–should we have a ‘Be Kind To Your Doctor Week’? Hat tip to HIStalk.

China’s getting set to be the healthcare AI leader–on the backs of sick, rural citizens’ data privacy

Picture this: a mobile rural health clinic arrives at a rural village in Jia County, in China’s Henan province. The clinic staff check the villagers, many of them elderly and infirm from their hard-working lives. The staff collect vital signs, take blood, urine, ECGs, and other tests. It’s all free, versus going to the hospital 30 miles away.

The catch: the data collected is uploaded to WeDoctor, a private healthcare company specializing in online medical diagnostics and related services that is part of Tencent, the Chinese technology conglomerate which is also devoted to AI. All that data is uploaded to WeDoctor’s AI-powered cloud. The good part: the agreement with the local government that permits this also provides medical services, health insurance, pharmaceuticals and healthcare education to the local people. In addition, it creates a “auxiliary treatment system for general practice” database that Jia County doctors can access for local patients. According to the WIRED article on this, it’s impressive at an IBM Watson level: 

Doctors simply have to input a patient’s symptoms and the system provides them with suggested diagnoses and treatments, calculated from a database of over 5,000 symptoms and 2,000 diseases. WeDoctor claims that the system has an accuracy rate of 90 per cent.

and 

Dr Zhang Qiaofen, in nearby Ren Zhuang village, says the system it has made her life easier. “Since WeDoctor came to my clinic, I feel more comfortable and have more confidence,” she says. “I’m thankful to the device for helping me make decisions.”

The bad part: The patients have no consent or control over the data, nor any privacy restrictions on its use by WeDoctor, Tencent, or the Chinese government. Regional government officials are next pictured in the article reviewing data on Jia County’s citizens: village, gender, age, ailment and whether or not a person has registered with a village health check. Yes, attending these health checks is mandatory for the villagers. 

What is happening is that China is building the world’s largest medical database, free of those pesky Western democracy privacy restrictions, and using AI/machine learning to create a massive set of diagnostic tools. The immediate application is to supplement their paucity of doctors and medical facilities (1.5 doctors per 1,000 people compared to almost double in the UK). All this is being built by an estimated 130 private companies as part of the “Made in China 2025” plan. Long term, the Chinese government gets to know even more intimate details about their 1.3 billion citizens. And these private companies can make money off the data. Such a deal! The difference between China’s attitude towards privacy and Western concerns on same could not be greater.  More on WeDoctor’s ambitions to be the Amazon of healthcare and yes, profit from this data, from Bloomberg. WeDoctor is valued at an incredible $5.5 billion. Hat tip to HISTalk’s Monday morning update.

Mismanaging a healthcare IT transition: what’s the cost?

Many of our Readers may consult HIStalk on occasion, especially the provocative weekly columns by a physician known as Dr. Jayne. She has a great deal to do with HIT for her practice, was a CMIO, and her Monday Curbside Consult is about the high cost of changing EHR platforms in a healthcare organization–an event that’s happening a lot lately (think DoD and VA). It’s the story of her friend who worked in IT for a health system that migrated to a single vendor platform and practice management system. The friend was given the option to remain with the legacy platforms support team for the transition, with the employer promising that those people would move to the new platform team following the migration. Routine, correct?

Not so routine when the cutover completion resulted in two weeks notice for those perhaps two dozen people. It wasn’t about headcount, because the organization posted jobs, but all new hires are required to be certified on the new system which the transition staff were not. And this health system, a non-profit, spent half a billion dollars for an EHR migration.

What’s the cost, in Dr. Jayne’s book?

  • The health system jettisoned a group of its most experienced people, with 15-20 years experience on average, with long-standing customer relationships (customers being doctors, practices, and health facilities). The knowledge base and track record they have in handling ‘Dr. Frazzled’s high maintenance billing team’, now wrestling with a new system, walked out the door.
  • These people, due to age, may never work, or find positions at the same level, ever again–and may very well wind up in the uncompensated healthcare system.
  • The health system may, through getting rid of experienced people, evaded the hard work on its own legacy of people and process. She points out that they “treated this migration simply as a technology swap-out” versus an “opportunity for further standardization and clinical transformation”. New people can freshen an organization, but will they be allowed to, or be fitted into the same stale setup?

Dr. Jayne is optimistic about her friend finding a new position. This Editor will let her write the conclusion which applies beyond HIT in how healthcare is being managed today, from small to giant organizations:

Too often, however, that mission is keeping up with the proverbial Joneses rather than being good stewards. It reminds me of when I was in the hospital this winter, when I didn’t get scheduled medications on time due to a staffing shortage. Is it really cheaper to risk a poor outcome? When did people become less valuable of an asset than mammoth IT systems or another outpatient imaging facility or ambulatory surgery center? And do we really need another glass and marble temple to healing when the actual patient care suffers?