The forthcoming HIMSS extravaganza is all about size. Who has the biggest, glitziest, most-easy-to-get- lost-in booth? How many educational sessions can you pack in during three or four or five, or can you imagine, six days? And if my inbox is any indication, the need of software vendors to conduct face-to-face visits has lost all sense of proportion. As of this afternoon, I have received more than 300 such meeting requests, and the last time my phone rang so often was during the last election, when I was pummeled with robo-calls (including several from Pres. Obama!)

There’s one HIMSS exhibit, however, that I will be sure to attend—and the organizers didn’t even bombard me with multiple invitations! That’s the Interoperability Showcase, a demonstration of how seemingly disparate information systems can indeed communicate with one another. I’ll be looking for Joyce Beck, the CEO of Thayer County Health Services. By way of comparison, this rural hospital will certainly be among the very smallest facilities represented.

I interviewed Joyce recently about her hospital’s participation in a statewide telehealth network in Nebraska—we only inadvertently stumbled upon the topic of HIMSS. Joyce, and her CIO, Dan Engel, are really proud of their accomplishments. As well they should be.

Thayer County health Services is a 19-bed critical access hospital tucked away in Hebron, Nebraska, down in the southeast corner of the state. Hebron’s population is 1700, which is just about how many people live within two blocks of me here in Chicago—with one big difference. In Thayer County, physicians are scarce. The hospital has four of them, Joyce says, with two mid-level providers and one nurse practitioner.

But the people who live in Hebron have the same need for health care services as us Chicagoans. Hence, the hospital’s participation in the telehealth network. It grants local residents access to specialists across the state without the drive time.

Joyce and Dan are major proponents of the EHR—which explains their participation in the Interoperability Showcase. The hospital has retired its paper charts, and it even issues thumb drives to patients that contain a condensed version of their record. “People in the city don’t know why we put this much effort into technology into a county with only 5,000 people,” Joyce says. “But people in rural American deserve the same health care as people in urban America. The best way to do that is tap into technology. I’m a firm believer in telehealth and electronic health records.”

Joyce enthusiastically described to me Thayer’s participation in the interoperability demonstration. She had a wellness check done in California, and flew back to Hebron, where she could view her lab results, transmitted electronically via the National Health Information Network infrastructure. Some of the other participants at the showcase will be Kaiser Permanente, the Social Security Dept., and HealthBridge, the Cincinnati-based HIE. These are some big players in an even bigger industry.

But when it comes to clinical connectivity, Joyce is not cowed by size. “Big organizations can do it, but so can little tiny critical access hospitals in rural areas,” she says.

 

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