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This article is part of our Conference Coverage: HIMSS 2018 conference coverage and analysis

HIMSS 2018 focuses on AI in healthcare

With AI in healthcare trending, the HIMSS conference is showcasing vendors and users turning to AI and machine learning for clinical and business applications; interoperability also is hot.

No technology is hotter at HIMSS 2018 than AI.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technology are sweeping most tech sectors and industries, and healthcare is no exception.

"Artificial intelligence has been around for a while, but why all the buzz around it now?" said HIMSS 2018 AI panelist Pamela Peele, chief analytics officer at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health Plan and UPMC Enterprises. "It's because we have dense, robust algorithms, tons of data and the ability to handle it computationally. It's the perfect storm."

HIMSS 2018 is a showcase for how health IT vendors and healthcare organizations are rapidly adopting AI for both clinical and revenue cycle applications as the reimbursement landscape evolves toward value-based care.

The conference will also prominently feature critical health IT themes, such as interoperability, cybersecurity, analytics and federal health IT projects from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Cerner's AI take

Traditionally, one of the biggest booths at HIMSS is that of Cerner Corp. At HIMSS 2018, the EHR megavendor -- which has used the show as a venue to duel with archrival Epic Systems Corp. -- is showing a range of new capabilities for consumer engagement and what it calls "intelligence," its code word for AI.

Ryan Hamilton, CernerRyan Hamilton

Ryan Hamilton, senior vice president for population health at Cerner, based in Kansas City, Mo., said AI, consumer-oriented healthcare and population health all are intertwined as the health IT industry moves beyond simple implementation of now widely established EHRs.

Cerner's messaging around these technologies is "smarter care, better outcomes and a healthier you."

"It's about how do you personalize and make healthcare workflows more intelligent. That could mean to increase better clinical outcomes, to find insights to make yourself more operationally efficient," Hamilton said.

"The endgame in the 'pop health' space is to get patients to produce better outcomes, and that could be through better adherence to therapy, that could be tighter relationships with providers or to get them to use the appropriate venues," he said.

Intelligent health and AI

Among the special HIMSS 2018 showcase installations this year is the Intelligent Health Pavilion, with exhibits on AI, precision medicine, and connected health and wellness.

At the pavilion and several dozen education sessions involving AI and machine learning, attendees can learn how to compete in the AI field, plan demonstration projects within their organizations, introduce AI into existing workflows and design new AI healthcare applications, according to HIMSS.

[All the buzz around AI is] because we have dense, robust algorithms, tons of data and the ability to handle it computationally. It's the perfect storm.
Pamela Peelechief analytics officer, UPMC

As for AI in healthcare, artificial intelligence and machine learning excel at classification, which in turn is a big way that AI is being used in conjunction with big data to sort for anomalies and trends that can improve clinical decision support, Peele and Hamilton said.

"What's really happening with AI and machine learning is can you use them to find more patterns to get increasingly personalized around the individual," Hamilton said.

In an EHR system like Cerner's, that capability can manifest itself in terms of what information surfaces in the physician's user interface, which chronic conditions are highlighted on the patient's longitudinal health record and why a patient sought treatment, he said.

The technologies' classification abilities are also ideally suited for the claims-payment process and clinical strategies in value-based care, in terms of determining true value, Peele said.

"The value of any kind of intervention varies among different patients based on their classification," she said. "When you understand how to classify the patient in clinically meaningful ways with respect to the treatments that are being delivered, you have now laid down the foundation for changing the way you pay for healthcare -- from paying for procedures to paying for value."

AI drawback

Pamela Peele, UPMCPamela Peele

Beyond the benefits -- both now and potentially -- AI, when it is seen as an advanced form of analytics, also presents some dangers, Peele warned.

Chief among them is overwhelming clinicians with too much data.

"Analytics is about creating new knowledge. And if we start spewing it like crazy, we're going to spew it down on people who have limited amounts of attention," she said. "The key value of AI to healthcare, or any other industry, is understanding which are the salient points."

HIMSS is top health IT show

Health IT's leading conference and exhibition -- officially the Annual Conference and Exhibition of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society -- is in Las Vegas this year from March 5 to 9.

The wide-ranging, freewheeling event typically draws more than 45,000 networking-seeking attendees and 1,300-plus vendors, which frequently use the show as a platform to introduce and demonstrate new products and services.

Healthcare providers, government agencies and consultants also roam the conference halls and populate the more than 300 educational sessions that often draw standing-room-only crowds.

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