This week marked the annual HIMSS Conference. HIMSS, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, is the big annual gathering of IT firms trying to market their wares into healthcare systems, pharmaceutical companies, and health insurers.
While usually a time for big partnerships, acquisitions, deployments, and new client wins, this year’s HIMSS kicked off in a rather inglorious manner. On Sunday news broke that world-renowned cancer center MD Anderson had discontinued their partnership with IBM Watson. After a string of big wins by the Watson team, this appeared to be the first – and certainly the largest – setback.
Forbes covered the story in great detail in an article titled MD Anderson Benches IBM Watson In Setback For Artificial Intelligence in Medicine. The article makes for a good read – there is plenty of drama, an unflattering internal audit, accusations of mismanagement, siloed departments not working together, and even some not-so-veiled inferences of potential financial improprieties. The author notes, “The end of the MD Anderson collaboration looks bad. Even if the decision is as much a result of MD Anderson's mismanagement or red tape--which it may be--it is still a setback for a field without any big successes.”
Despite this, most of the news coming out of the conference by the end of the week was positive. Most of the industry journals covering the event focused on patient engagement and artificial intelligence as the big take-away themes from the event.
Artificial intelligence is certainly the new-new thing. It’s basically the buzzword that Big Data was 3-4 years ago, so it’s not surprising that many companies were trumpeting their abilities and insights into the application of AI in healthcare at HIMSS. Patient engagement is another story altogether. We’ve been hearing about patient engagement technologies as a major force in the healthcare market for many, many, many years.
Connecting the dots of these two stories, it seems that the takeaway from HIMSS is that the new-new thing (AI in general, Watson in particular) is still a ways off and has a number of significant hurdles yet to overcome while the old-old thing (patient engagement technologies) is still not really ready for prime time.
What to make of that?
I think it comes down to something I wrote about extensively almost a year ago, in a blog post titled Playing the Long Game. In there I detailed the struggles many healthcare IT companies (even our own) face when trying to gain traction and implementation in the health system market. While pockets of innovation exist at most big health systems, IDNs, and academic medical centers, those institutions are by nature conservative when it comes to deploying new technologies. And that’s for good reason – they have patient lives at stake.
We don’t have a stake in patient engagement technologies, but when I’m hearing for the 7th or 8th year in a row about how patient engagement is just about to take-off, that seems like a pretty clear indicator that a lot of healthcare IT firms are stuck in the organizational wheels of their potential clients.
All of which brings us back to IBM Watson and MD Anderson. Was this a 1-off situation? Was it a unique failure of IBM Watson and/or MD Anderson? Is it emblematic of the promise of Artificial Intelligence not being ready yet? We probably won’t know those answers for quite some time. IBM has the time, money, and resources to weather that type of storm. But most firms in our space do not have that luxury.
I’m very firmly in the camp of believing that many of these technologies will revolutionize healthcare as we know it. The question is how long will it take and who will survive in the market to see it happen.
At Advera Health, we are balancing the long game with a strong and growing roster of forward thinking clients across the healthcare spectrum that recognize an investment in advanced drug safety data and analytics are key to meet their business goals. Want to discuss exactly how these forward thinkers are implementing Evidex? Let us know.
Brian Overstreet, President