By Erin Holve, AcademyHealth

For the last several years as principal investigator of the EDM Forum, supported by AHRQ, I’ve had the privilege to assess ways in which health services research is rapidly evolving to support and improve health. Major trends include advances in health IT, big data, data science, the rise of consumer health, patient engagement, learning health systems, and new strategies to drive value in health care and health. It is an amazing time to be in our field!

And the pace of change continues to accelerate…..

Having attended the 2016 Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Annual Conference & Exhibition these last few days, I wanted to share a few observations about the ways in which HSR priorities and interests are converging with the Health IT marketplace. My biggest takeaway is that there are tremendous opportunities for HSR-ers to get even more involved in the transformational shifts towards health system analytics that will drive health improvement.

Interoperability and the Focus on Content and Consumers

This year, everyone at HIMSS was talking about ‘interoperability’. And while interoperability an be a catch all for a host of issues – including technical considerations, coding, and process issues - the opportunity presented by the focus on interoperability is the chance to shift the conversation towards ways to use health IT and analytics to improve at a system level. I was pleased to see this discussion since the EDM Forum has a forthcoming issue brief on exactly these issues!

Notably, Dr. Karen DeSalvo, National Coordinator for Health IT and Acting Assistant Secretary for Health of HHS, when asked about the change in topics and tone in her concluding remarks during Tuesday evening’s plenary, shared the same sentiments about interoperability as a hot topic in 2016. What was really striking about Dr. DeSalvo’s description of interoperability was her focus on the shift in conversation from technology (Can we do digitize health data?) to content (How do we use health IT to improve health?).

This focus on content was a big deal at the conference, so much so that I found myself thinking that many of the sessions I attended were reminiscent of HSR and policy conference sessions! Of course, the HIMSS conference had just over 41,000 attendees and 1,300 exhibitors this year, covering a huge range of topics. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the convergence of HIMSS panels with many technical and policy topics of deep interest to the HSR community.

For example, a sample of sessions includes: the landscape of health IT safety surveillance; driving analytics to the point of care; interoperability and data analytics; case studies in creating a learning health system; and how accountable care organizations can harness data and analytics, among numerous others. An increasing focus on how to serve consumers and patients’ – particularly with respect to mHealth - was also evident across the panels, with many leaders citing the push towards interoperability as a response to consumer demands.

HIMSS16 provided me a terrific opportunity to reflect on our work in HSR from a new vantage point. I would welcome discussion or any questions readers might have about the about the meeting. Or if you have any thoughts on the ways HSR can be more fully integrated into discussions with the health information management community. I’ll have a bit more to say on this question in my reflections on HIMSS in part II….

Erin Holve, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.P.P. is Senior Director of Research and Education in health services research (HSR) at AcademyHealth. Dr. Holve leads the organization’s work on analytic methods and research resources for the field of health services research. She is principal investigator of several projects on patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR) and comparative effectiveness research (CER) including the Electronic Data Methods Forum ( Her recent published work has focused on the infrastructure —including training — needed in order to build learning health systems to improve patient care and outcomes. She is founding editor and editor-in-chief of AcademyHealth’s open access peer reviewed journal, eGEMs.