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HIMSS11 Recap: ACOs, ICD-10 and Social Media Bring “Meaningful Use” Closer to Home

After much anticipation and preparation, another annual HIMSS conference is now a mere memory. But last week’s gathering at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., clearly engaged a diverse cross-section of the healthcare industry. This year, three themes really took center stage among those I spoke with: accountable care organizations (ACOs), 5010/ICD-10 and social media. Each of those issues, if you think about it, plays a distinctive role in reaching “meaningful use” goals.

It’s hard to believe the difference just a year can make in regard to “meaningful use.” It was certainly the hot topic at last year’s HIMSS conference in Atlanta. Since at the time little was set in stone about the regulations, there was a lot of talk and little action. Healthcare organizations were biding their time, hesitant to purchase IT systems before knowing the exact “meaningful use” requirements.

This year, by contrast, people were actively shopping for those systems. In fact, I saw a few EHR vendors actually taking contracts on the exhibit hall floor! The writing is on the wall; clearly, the industry is beginning to move past the theory behind “meaningful use” and toward the practical applications to support it.

I think that’s why the ACO concept was such a prevalent subject. While most of the buzz I heard likened ACOs to “HMOs all over again,” it’s important to recognize the differences between the two. ACOs certainly include the cost control element found in HMOs, but they also tie reimbursement to improvement in quality measures. This facet—tracking population outcomes—is why the EHR is such an essential component of ACOs.

Social media, too, is coming into its own as a way to foster more accountable, patient-centered care. The HIMSS exhibit floor revealed company after company emphasizing a social media feel within individual systems. Time and again I heard attendees ask vendors, “Is there an app for that?” IT vendors increasingly are catering to a mobile generation with healthcare apps, while also using social media to reach customers and prospects. There was even a “social media center” that offered educational sessions, as well as HIMSS11 tweets and links to join HIMSS groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Last, but certainly not least, talk about the 5010 and ICD-10 conversions abounded. Fortunately, 5010 will change little about the way organizations code, bill, and track outcomes. It’s primarily a format change only involving the vendor and payer communities. So, there wasn’t much sense of urgency among providers about the 5010 deadline. Most believe that the PM/EMR vendor, the clearinghouse, and the payer will work through the format change. This may be the case, but I would still encourage all physician practices to consult with their HIT vendors to ensure that they will indeed be ready for the transition. Otherwise, practices risk claims rejections by insurance companies—and resulting cash flow interruptions.

Unlike the pending 5010 transition which will primarily impact HIT vendors, the ICD-10 transition is another matter altogether. ICD-10 will require everyone—providers, IT staff, coding and billing staff, clearinghouses, EHR and practice management vendors, payers, and more—to make big changes. Once again, however, the “meaningful use” perspective emerges. With the more specific code set will come the opportunity to better track, trend, and improve patient outcomes. Perhaps that’s why 19 educational sessions at HIMSS were geared toward helping organizations navigate the ICD-10 waters ahead.

What were your impressions and key takeaways from HIMSS11?