Interview with HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber: Mobile is the future

By: Neil Versel | Feb 21, 2011        

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LieberHealth IT is very much in a transition phase right now. The “meaningful use” incentive program for electronic health records is underway, though in its early phases. National health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal is departing government service in April, even as federal officials work to develop regulations for Stage 2 and Stage 3 of meaningful use.

And right at the nexus of all the change is mobile healthcare, according to H. Stephen Lieber, president and CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

“The laptop is almost becoming a bit outdated as we move to smartphones and tablets,” Lieber said last week in a wide-ranging interview ahead of the organization’s annual conference, now underway in Orlando, Fla. Mobile is the next evolution in information technology, and we’re right on the cusp of the mobile era.

“It’s where we’re headed. It’s the future,” Lieber said. “The ability to deliver care from somewhere else [while] the patient is in still a different place, that very much is where we are headed.”

Lieber did acknowledge that some people are already there. “It’s certainly current for many. It’s the future for all,” he said.

In many ways, HIMSS conference is a new venue for mobile technology. While Sprint CEO Dan Hesse keynoted at HIMSS10 in Atlanta and more than 200 of the 900-plus vendors at HIMSS11 claim to offer mobile applications, mobile is struggling to find the spotlight in this massive event.

As we reported last week, a good portion of the mobile-related content at HIMSS is taking place outside of the regular conference.  Sunday featured a pre-conference RFID symposium, and mobile is central to HIT X.0: Beyond the Edge, a series of sessions on emerging healthcare technologies—including mobile, wireless and social media—that HIMSS really is running as a separate conference with an additional registration fee.

“The objective here is to bring into the HIMSS conference those things that you typically didn’t find prominently,” Lieber said of the X.0 programming. They’ve been there, but might have been hard to find. “You almost had to go looking for them,” he added.

“We want to be bringing into the conference what’s coming or what’s here but hasn’t necessarily been embraced on a widespread basis, as other technologies might,” Lieber explained. “It attracts a very different kind of audience.”

How much so? Of the approximately 900 people who signed up for HIT X.0, more than half had never attended HIMSS before, according to Lieber, likely because they didn’t see enough value in the main conference  to make it worth their while.

“We were successful in reaching out to a different audience, focusing on a different subject and structuring it in such a way that the audience recognizes that this is not typical for HIMSS,” Lieber said.

Lieber did caution against falling victim to unreasonable expectations some may have set for mobile health. “We see it all the time, in terms of hype cycles and booms,” he said.

“People need to be careful as they’re looking at applications and they’re looking at hardware, making sure that it’s designed for the environment,” Lieber cautioned. “The iPad wasn’t really designed for a linoleum floor,” for example. Nor was it designed for hospital-grade sanitizers.

“There’s a lot that happens in the early days [of a technology]—people coming into the field who come from a different sector and think they can just transplant their product or learning to healthcare, and it doesn’t work quite that way,” Lieber added.

One area prone to hype is remote and home monitoring, but Lieber is optimistic about its future. “Home care, that’s an area that still is in its infancy—if it’s even barely in infancy—that’s going to be another transition that we’ll see over the coming years.”

Of course, lack of reimbursement has held back wider adoption of wireless monitoring technologies. HIMSS is not actively lobbying insurers to pay for telehealth services, but the organization historically has been slow in getting into financial and reimbursement issues. “It’s related to what we do, but we’re much closer to the technology, the hardware and software issues,” according to Lieber.

But the time is coming. “What we are starting to see is a recognition by the payers that it’s in their best interest to find the ways to provide the right kind of reimbursement and incentives that help move care to the lower-cost—and oftentimes more-effective—setting,” Lieber said.

Insurers must make sure that they aren’t just paying for a service on top of regular care, though, Lieber said. “They’ve got to figure out how [to] bring that reimbursement scheme in that provides the right incentives that shifts it from a higher per-unit cost to a lower per-unit cost.”