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At HIMSS conference, coronavirus threatens to eclipse Trump's talk

President Trump will likely talk about patient empowerment and interoperability at HIMSS 2020 -- all set against a backdrop of growing concern over the coronavirus.

The 2020 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition is promising to be a HIMSS conference like no other.

On Monday, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) announced it was adding President Donald Trump to its speaker list for its annual health IT conference in Orlando, Fla. The news shined a spotlight on a long-awaited interoperability rule, but the decision has also been met with some criticism and the coronavirus outbreak continues to cast a shadow. That same day, Florida's governor declared a public health emergency for the state and local media outlets reported Florida's first confirmed cases of coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19.

The outbreak has also led major vendors like Amazon, Salesforce, Intel, Cisco and Health Level Seven International to withdraw from the HIMSS conference. HIMSS officials are seeking to calm fears by detailing measures they're taking to make the event safe, which includes an external panel of medical experts to advise HIMSS decision-making.

While the coronavirus will continue to play out in the background, Forrester Research analyst Jeff Becker said Trump's speech, slated for 4 p.m. March 9, will focus on how his administration is pushing for the consumerization of healthcare in its attempts to lower costs. Trump's presence also more or less confirms that the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT's proposed interoperability rule to make patient access to health data easier will finally drop.

"I can't imagine they would have a sitting president speaking at HIMSS on interoperability without the administration having the interoperability rule ready to go for that," he said.

Trump's speech to focus on patient empowerment

ONC issued a draft of the interoperability rule at last year's HIMSS conference. It has been under review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) since October. It would mandate that healthcare organizations use APIs based on the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard to make patient data more accessible.

Forrester analyst Jeff BeckerJeff Becker

Interoperability will be a component of Trump's speech, but Becker believes patient empowerment and building a more consumer-like healthcare experience will most likely be its theme.

"The Trump administration's perspective on how we're going to reduce the cost of care in America is to empower consumers with a shoppable experience," Becker said.

I can't imagine they would have a sitting president speaking at HIMSS on interoperability without the administration having the interoperability rule ready to go for that.
Jeff BeckerAnalyst, Forrester Research

Jeffery Smith, vice president of public policy at the American Medical Informatics Association, agreed that Trump's speech will focus on patient empowerment and patient access to data. He also said the support from federal officials shows that the OMB is on the same page as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) when it comes to what the rule will require of healthcare organizations.

"HHS -- from the secretary to the national coordinator to the administrator of [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] -- has been very forceful in their defense of the rule as of late," Smith said. "I really don't anticipate that there would be a lot of misalignment ultimately between what HHS wanted to do and what OMB is going to OK them to do."

Jeffery Smith, vice president of public policy, American Medical Informatics AssociationJeffery Smith

Last month, Epic Systems Corp., stirred debate by asking ONC to address some problems it saw with the interoperability rule before it is finalized, namely patient privacy concerns. Becker said that pushback could be why the administration is supporting the effort so strongly and with a united front, a sentiment Smith echoed. For the Trump administration, interoperability is critical to building a road to accessibility.

Trump will be the first sitting president to speak at a HIMSS conference, according to Karen Groppe, HIMSS senior director of strategic communications. The decision to include Trump, especially during an election year, has generated some outcry on social media. That includes former HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber, who, according to a Facebook comment captured by Health 2.0 founder Matthew Holt, said he was, "extremely disappointed in the current HIMSS leadership with this decision."

The Trump administration's strong push for interoperability has created a "food fight" over patient data between Epic and tech giants like Google, Amazon and Microsoft, said Twila Brase, president and co-founder of Citizens' Council for Health Freedom, a patient-centered nonprofit.

Citizens' Council for Health Freedom president and co-founder Twila BraseTwila Brase

Indeed, she's calling for ONC to mandate patient consent requirements for any health system that wants to share health data. Brase said Trump's presence at the HIMSS conference "could show that the Trump administration understands how hot the issue [of interoperability] is and wants to take the opportunity to speak [about] the issue."

According to a HIMSS media update, the organization is making modifications with session scheduling to accommodate President Trump's address, and the time of the President's speech is subject to change as "this is a situation with many moving parts." HIMSS does not have details on where Trump's speech will take place within the Orange County Convention Center, as final onsite accommodations are still being made, according to the update.

Vendors backing out, citing coronavirus fears

Yet even a high-profile speaker like Trump hasn't stopped some major vendors from pulling out of the HIMSS conference.

Technology networking company Cisco was one of the first to withdraw, announcing its decision last weekend and citing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. This week, several more have joined that list.

"Due to the continued concerns about COVID-19, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in the HIMSS20 conference," according to a statement from an Amazon spokesperson. "We've reached this decision after much consideration, as the health and safety of our employees, customers, and partners are our top priority."

Salesforce and Intel also confirmed Tuesday that they've withdrawn from the event. Health Level Seven International tweeted earlier this week that the organization "will not staff or host presentations" in its HIMSS booth due to coronavirus outbreak concerns. Germany-based Siemens Healthineers also decided to withdraw from the conference. Microsoft declined to comment on its attendance at HIMSS.

HIMSS' Groppe said the organization will not confirm exhibitors withdrawing from the show.

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