It’s been a couple of weeks since the annual HIMSS conference wrapped up for 2017 and I’m just starting to emerge from the HIMSS-Haze of sleep deprivation. I doff my hat to those that recovered more quickly.
As usual there was too much to take in at HIMSS17. The keynotes were fantastic, the sessions educational and the exhibit hall had a buzz about it that was absent from last year’s event. Although the main take-away from HIMSS17 seems to be the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, I believe something else emerged from the event – something that may have far greater ramifications for HealthIT in the short term.
For me the big story at HIMSS17 was the arrival of mainstream IT companies. I have been going to HIMSS for 10 years now and I can honestly say this year was the first time that non-traditional healthcare IT vendors were a noticeable force. SAP, IBM (Watson), Intel, Google, Salesforce, Samsung and Microsoft were just a few of the B2B vendors who had large booths in the HIMSS17 exhibit hall.
Salesforce was particularly noteworthy. They made a big splash with their super-sized booth this year. It was easily five times the size of the one they had at HIMSS16 and featured a fun “cloud viewer” at its center along with a large theatre for demonstrations.
— Dane Vahey (@DaneVahey) February 20, 2017
Salesforce, however, didn’t stop there. They also threw a HUGE party over at Pointe Orlando on Tuesday night. At one point, the party had a line of eager attendees that snaked out the front of the facility. Their party rivaled that of several large EHR vendors.
IBM was also back at HIMSS after an extended absence. Their “organic booth” was always busy with people curious to learn more about IBM Watson – particularly after the keynote given by CEO Ginni Rometty on Day 1.
— Lara Baker Olin (@larabakerolin) February 20, 2017
So what does the arrival of mainstream B2B vendors mean for healthcare?
Consolidation. The EHR gold rush is over and yet companies like SAP and Salesforce are still electing to invest in healthcare. Why would they do that at a time when government incentive money has all but dried up? I believe it’s because they smell consolidation and optimization opportunities. These B2B players have large war chests and as HealthIT companies begin to struggle, they will be knights in shining armor waiting to swoop in.
More Consumer Technologies. One of the big trends in healthcare right now is consumerism. There is a drive by healthcare organizations to adopt consumer-centric technologies and workflows to service patients better. Patients are seeking providers that offer the conveniences that they are used to as consumers: online appointment booking, mobile chat, real-time price quotes, etc. Companies like Google, Samsung, IBM and Microsoft already have technologies that work well in the consumer world. With growing demand in healthcare it’s only natural that they are investing.
Standards. Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but when companies like TSYS (a very large financial transaction processor) show up at HIMSS for the first time, one can only hope that standards and interoperability will soon follow. After all, if cut-throat banks can agree on a common way to share information with each other, surely the same can happen in healthcare.
Cognitive Computing. Google, IBM, Microsoft and Intel have all made big bets on cognitive computing. I’m willing to bet that their investments in this area dwarf anything that a HealthIT company has made – including Epic and Cerner. IBM and Microsoft in particular have been aggressively seeking partners to work with them on health applications for Artificial Intelligence. Just ahead of HIMSS17, Microsoft and UPMC Enterprises announced that they would be working together to “create new products aimed at transforming care delivery”.
I’m very excited by the arrival of these B2B technology vendors. I think it signals the start of a maturation phase in the HealthIT industry, one in which consolidation and collaboration break down legacy silos. At the very least, traditional HealthIT companies like Cerner, Epic, athenahealth and NextGen will now have to step up their game in order to fend off these large, well-funded entrants.