Prioritising the providers

After an extensive search process for a new leader to replace Stephen Lieber as the President and CEO of HIMSS, Hal Wolf, former Chief Operating Officer of Kaiser Permanente, has stepped into the new role. In an exclusive interview, the digital health veteran gives us an insight into his plans for the HIMSS global footprint.


Stephen Lieber led HIMSS, a global, cause-based, non-profit organisation that aims to improve healthcare through IT, for more than 17 years. In 2005, he realised the opportunities that digital technology can provide for the healthcare sector had to be put forward across the European continent.

The idea sparked a partnership with the European Commission to foster co-operation and sharing of best practice in digital health in the region, but challenges, of course, have been constantly growing.

Along with that, the EU is a different market, with all Member States having a different approach to healthcare.

But will Hal Wolf stick to the same vision? After all, he has been on the Board of Directors with HIMSS for more than four years, working closely with Lieber to understand methods the organisation can use to foster development.

"It is very important to understand that the foundational pieces of HIMSS that Steve was instrumental in putting in place is tied to our members, public policy, innovation and improving health through the use of information and technology," he told Insights.

"What we need to be able to do with HIMSS is not change what we’re doing, but take this amazing foundation and add value to it globally."

Providers to be 'one step ahead of the request through IT'

HIMSS has been bringing different aspects of healthcare together through its conferences organised around the world, including e-Health Week in the UK or the new HIMSS Europe 18 event, taking place in Spain next year.

With more information than ever facing every part of the world, Wolf explained that they will now be looking to extend themselves ‘more deeply’ into the provider circle:

Before becoming the CEO and President of HIMSS, Wolf had already been on the company’s Board of Directors for more than four years. In his former role as Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Kaiser Permanente, The Permanente Federation, he was responsible for critical care delivery strategies, data management, governance and large scale programmes focused on end-to-end operations.

"We’re already touching it, but it hasn’t necessarily been a major focus (…). The relationship between healthcare IT and the provider business has never been more important. The provider hopefully will always be one step ahead of the request through IT."

The HIMSS flagship activity in analytics remains the Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model (EMRAM), supporting trusts with a global metric that can assess their digital maturity, adding to the collaboration fostered around different communities.

Most recently, HIMSS added Health 2.0 to its portfolio, creating a new dimension to its events. The organisation is expected to slowly incorporate elements of the new acquisition into its conferences to support the development and use of new, smaller, targeted applications that will help the sector adapt to increasing challenges.

"Innovation is fundamentally the recognition that things can be done differently and that there are toolsets that allow them to be done differently or that need to be developed.

"HIMSS is going to be thinking about making innovation even more prevalent in all of our events, our communications, our news. We want to create even greater communication and capabilities so that people can see innovation, spread it and react to it faster than ever before," said Wolf.

Tackling ransomware threats

But while different countries have had to deal with legacy environments and lack of investment or direction from the top, a new type of pressure has been taking over. The inefficiency of current cybersecurity defence mechanisms seems to be the threat that can stop anything from moving forward.

Back in September, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced the EU would be looking to strengthen its cybersecurity through a suite of new proposals, including the development of a new European Cybersecurity Agency and a European certification programme to assess what products would be safe to use across Member States.

"Digital health is about enablement, about helping and supporting, through the use of information tools, to provide connectivity within the health ecosystem."

In the UK, Minister for Digital, Matt Hancock announced organisations that fail to deploy effective measures for cybersecurity could be looking at fines of up to £17m (approx. €19.4m).

While all of these initiatives are still in the proposal stage, it is clear that the threat of ransomware and targeted IT failures will not escape the digital health scene for the foreseeable future, and HIMSS will look to address this even further.

Wolf reminded us that an important part remains not underestimating the extent of the challenge everyone has on their plate:

"Digital health is about enablement, about helping and supporting, through the use of information tools, to provide connectivity within the health ecosystem."

But digital health is not strictly about technology, Wolf added. Although the dependence on technology will only increase, the ways it gets integrated through ‘people and processes’ will define its impact.

"Generally, I see the digital health space as paramount to basic healthcare," he concluded.

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Leontina Postelnicu

[UK] covers the implementation of technology across the UK’s health and care system for the British Journal of Healthcare Computing, with a particular interest in health policy and innovation.

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