After several years working in health care PR and marketing, I recently attended HIMSS for the first time. The must-attend conference for the health care IT world detailed a lot of changes that are facing the industry:

  • Health care is going digital, whether physicians are open to that change or not. This will save our government, our insurers, our hospitals and consumers valuable time and money. It will also save lives, improve the coordination of care and reduce complications. And it’s not all about EHR and PHR. It’s also about RFID, ePrescribing, HIE, measurement and more. That is why the ARRA (PDF) is pouring tens of billions of dollars into the support of this transition.

  • There is a clear communications disconnect.  If you are in health care communications and are not actively engaging in social media, public affairs and education about eHealth for both physicians and consumers, you might as well continue your one-way dialogue with the wall and wait for your pink slip.

  • EMR and PHR providers are struggling with differentiation.  The most common response when I asked what a fellow attendee’s company did was “EMR.” OK, well, what makes it different from the 200 or so other EMR providers here? Companies need to figure that out before their competitors do.

  • Private and group practice physicians, as well as consumers, need to hear “What’s in it for me?” One physician said that the paper-to-EMR switch saved him $33.15 per patient visit, which totaled tens of thousands of dollars a year in additional revenue. He also said more than 13,000 patients visit his practice’s portal each month to participate in their own health management. If you build it, they will come.

  • Physicians are currently positioned as technology novices. The industry is not giving them enough credit. These people graduated from med school. We just need to persuade them based on factors that are important to them: time, money and outcomes.

The dialogue that was missing from the conversation at HIMSS is how this digital shift will affect health care marketing in the next five years. As outcome measurement becomes more thorough and more regularly reported, hospitals and physicians will be able to more effectively market their results, giving consumers opportunities for more educated provider decisions than “it’s near my house” or “it was the first name on my insurance provider’s Web site.”

Vendors and users will also need to have a strategy to gather and digest the vast amount of information being generated by both the private and public sector, as well as strategies on where and when they should participate in this fast-moving dialogue.

Some of the particularly interesting companies I met have technologies to watch, including OnBase, Epic Systems, TeleHealth Services, Microsoft’s HealthVault, Zynx Health and triPRACTIX. The HIMSS site also has additional details and news from the conference.

— Keith Donovan

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