15,800 steps over 7.46 miles, and I’ve only just begun…. Health care is BIG!

For anyone making their first trip to the HIMSS14 Annual Conference & Exhibition, the first day-and-a-half can be rather dizzying. The number of my trips to HIMSS has reached double digits, and the exponential growth in attendance each year still astounds me. As has been my practice over the years, this morning’s blog takes a briefer approach as I ramp up for the day’s platter full of discussions and educational sessions covering areas such as:

  • Making sure the patient-centric, personal approach continues to be weaved within Health IT.
  • Building analytics to best engage consumers.
  • Final preparations for ICD-10 conversions.
  • FDA’s path forward for open data and next-generation sequencing.
  • Interoperability at the VA.


  • The keynote address by Hillary Clinton.

And yes, my FitBit confirms that (despite the sit-time during educational sessions) – the breadth and scope of the exhibit hall, which optimally should be taken in manageable sections, and the Orange County Convention Center’s enormity – gave me a good 7.46 mile day!

The US health care maze

An illustration of a mouse maze was used in this week’s opening keynote. It represented how the US health system had evolved since the 1940’s with little change except in size and complexity. The number of specialists, offices, hospitals, clinics, labs, out-patient facilities, etc. has made the system harder and harder to navigate and less and less patient-centered. A theme of discussion this week is how information technology, hand-in-hand with models such as accountable care organizations and patient centered medical homes, can begin to make sense of it all for the patient, the plans and providers.

The mainstream technology organizations have coined the phrase “big data.”  The volume, velocity and variety of data points generated within the health care maze are not for the weak-of-heart; but when harnessed with insightful analytics, can contribute to mapping a path through the maze.  So too can the variability (inconsistency in times of data generation) and complexity of data.

Take a walk through another maze

Whether taking in the expansive exhibit hall from an archway observation deck, or walking 15,800 steps the “old fashioned” way, you’d be impressed with the variety and complexity of vendors offering products and services to meet the huge volume of issues and challenges facing health care or to improve daily process or accuracy of measurements.

With each turn down another aisle, I could not help thinking how every product and service generates data in some fashion – yet it seems analytic solutions had evolved into niche-problem solvers.

I prefer to think of analytics as the means to solving ANY PROBLEM, no matter the complexity or degree of importance, dealing with ANY SIZE of “big data” in ANY REACTION TIME.

And there it is…

A line in the sand

I continue to believe that the Triple Aim is 100-percent doable, but we have to change our approach.  Technology now allows us to merge the disciplines of improving care: by improving health experiences and lowering costs into a single analytical mentality that uses the very best of high-performance analytics for the data being considered. The Journal of Advanced Analytics – International Edition, recently published a discussion of the role for big data in addressing the triple aim and it serves as a good mind-set, as well as insight into activity outside of the US.

When I look at the wide range of problems SAS solves for its customers, I know that the only reason we’re able to create solutions that successfully meet the needs of health care is because we attack the problem and don’t get bogged-down into niche technologies with limitations. Despite the volume, velocity, variety, variability and complexity of the data being generated, we focus on what’s needed to enable the health care community to improve what it does, how it does it and when.

Now, will I beat yesterday’s step count?

It wasn’t lost on me that on the shuttle back to the hotel last night I was greeted with a FitBit email congratulating me on a 500-mile badge (granted, I’m new to FitBit so this may pale in comparison to many) – as I know HIMSS contributed to it. I also realize that, for many attending HIMSS, the journey out of the maze toward the Triple Aim must seem far longer than 500 miles. It’s amazing how analytics can shorten that journey!

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