HIMSS14 Recap: Big booths and bigger data

I’m heading back from my first HIMSS conference since the late 1990s, and it’s been interesting to see what has changed – and what hasn’t – since I was last there.

First off, the conference has pretty much doubled in size in the past 15 years – I remember thinking it was huge back then because they anticipated 20,000 people attending and exhibiting, and now it’s up to about 40,000. Wow. Fortunately the city of Orlando was prepared to handle the onslaught, and everything seemed to run pretty smoothly.

The big vendors, of course, were all there with massive exhibit booths – some of which I think were bigger than my house. It was also fun to see the booths of some MarkLogic partners there – like M*Modal, ICA, Tableau, and our newest partner Datawatch. While walking the conference floor each day, I saw a lot of advertising about helping with the switchover to ICD-10, and there was also a whole section of the exhibit hall devoted to “interoperability.” Who remembers when HL7 came along and was going to save us all and make data exchange smooth and easy? Well… apparently it’s not so simple, and everyone’s still trying to sort this stuff out.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the volume, variety, and complexity of healthcare data – and the need to store and analyze it. Now of course we have all heard the term “big data” more times than we can count, but healthcare was trying to deal with big data before there was a name for it. Now, however, there are new technologies that they can leverage. Our own Mike Doane was there to talk attendees through the advantages that the MarkLogic Enterprise NoSQL database platform can provide to healthcare organizations. He gave an introduction to our capabilities, then launched into a number of use cases – complete with real-life customer examples (like CMS, FDA, M*Modal, ICA, VA/MHS, and SAMHSA). Sadly, we don’t have a recording of this presentation, but you can hear Mike talk in detail about a couple of these projects in videos on our new healthcare solutions page.

I also got to hear a talk from a wonderful woman I used to work for, Vi Shaffer – she’s a VP at Gartner now, and she told all of us in the audience that Gartner sees analytics as being THE next big thing for healthcare technology. Almost everything in the early stages of their well-known “hype cycle” is analytics or related to it. She also pointed out that healthcare IT applications started off being business-focused, then moved into clinical, and are now moving into the patient-facing domain – and all of it is enabled by, and producing, new data. So, basically, big data is just getting bigger, and healthcare organizations are needing to sort out new forms of storage and data management technology to handle it. One key point she made was not to think of an enterprise data warehouse as “just another module of your EHR [electronic health record] vendor” – she told the attendees that the most sophisticated data warehousing work is being done outside healthcare, and that they should expand their horizons when looking for ideas. She also cautioned them “don’t data mart yourself to death” and noted that they need strong information governance. As a MarkLogic employee and advocate, I definitely second all those opinions.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make it to next year’s conference – this was a great week and I realized I still have a lot to catch up on!