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Live from the Super Bowl... of Healthcare

Created: 08 Mar 2013
Jen Nowell's picture
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As a first-time attendee at HIMSS this year (#HIMSS13), I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth and depth of the experience—wall-to-wall innovation (everything from virtual hospitals, to physical bed technologies, to mobile phone security) in a space the size of eight football fields.

If I felt any disappointment, it was only at the relative lack of federal healthcare representation—a criticism I made at RSA last week as well. That said, there were enough federal executives, partners, and integrators at HIMSS to make the experience wholly worthwhile.

I was indoctrinated in the healthcare field about a year ago. The most difficult part was learning how to filter out the extraneous noise so that I could focus on the pressing issues for government.

Even now, I struggle to find clarity and consistency in the broader healthcare market. In practice, the infrastructure of "all things medical" is largely proprietary, which makes things more complicated than they need to be. (Open standards are in the works, but they're not here yet.)

Case in point: I recently saw the announcement of a new alliance called Commonwell—a group of primary EMR vendors aiming to build the synergies necessary to share information. After visiting their booth to learn more, I mentioned this to a "realist" colleague of mine, and noted that it all feels very much like Energy ten years ago, when SCADA systems were on propriety networks, and as those systems were introduced to TCP/IP-based networks, malware took center stage.

"What we learned," I insisted, "was to embrace the flexibility of open standards."

He looked at me incredulously, and said: "Really? Even Microsoft is proprietary." 

Perhaps I'm being naïve, but I still believe that someday, all networks, technologies, and resources can share common data by using the same protocols, attributes and characteristics. How hard can it be? 

In fact, considering President Obama's State of the Union message and NIST funding from the Executive Order to build more appropriate frameworks, this goal is more attainable than ever.

And it's a worthwhile mission: focusing our attention on the healthcare missions that matter most—like making sure your new doctor has access to data about your penicillin allergy.

Of course, all this openness and data sharing does unearth some new challenges for information security and privacy managers. In fact, while at HIMSS, I had the opportunity to talk about this issue with Health IT Security.

If you have the time, that article is worth a read, too.