I finally gave up on the idea of sleeping about 3 a.m. this morning in Las Vegas. My body clock is all out of whack, and my mind is buzzing with all the challenges of covering HIMSS16, as well as all I’m expecting to learn, over the next four days.

This will be my 20th HIMSS conference, as best as I can tell. My first was in Atlanta in 1996, and each one has its own special kind of exhaustion. I’ve been on the media side, the HIMSS side (in 2003, when I was with the organization as director of communications) and then with CHIME at the CIO Forum. Over this stretch, I’ve missed only one HIMSS event.

Each conference has its own intriguing theme, and last year’s was noteworthy. The buzz was around population health and shifting reimbursement trends, and how technology would be essential to equip providers with the information they need to make the switch. The role of IT in enabling this change made complete sense.

I’m anxious to discover a theme for this year’s conference, but I imagine it will be a continuation of last year’s trend. EHRs have become part of the basic fabric of providing healthcare for most healthcare organizations (Adrienne Edens, CIO in the Valley Area at Sutter Health, has called them table stakes now, which seems all the more appropriate for a conference in Las Vegas), and now providers want to build on their years of efforts with EHRs.

As EHRs have become a required investment for doing business in healthcare, the question now becomes what do you do with all that information being gathered? Hence, there’s a growing need to analyze that information and use it to better map out care for each and every patient.

Providers are now looking to optimize clinical systems and cash in on the billions of dollars they’ve collectively invested so far. Many believe they need a bit of relief from the federal government to do it—they’re hoping for a bit less pressure from the meaningful use program, with fewer or more rational requirements for participation.

As such, there will be a lot of interest in what Karen DeSalvo says in her role as national coordinator for health information technology when she appears here. Some federal officials hinted at major changes to the meaningful use program, possibly occurring as early as this year. There was some backtracking on an initial pronouncement on the program, but more guidance from ONC and CMS is expected in March.

I’m sensing that data security will be a recurring theme for this HIMSS conference. Provider organizations are feeling the pressure, and with the recent ransomware incident in California many HIT executives know all too well that it could happen to them. I remember a recent interview with Cletis Earle, vice president and CIO at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, who was discussing security at his facility. In monitoring intrusion attempts of its networks, Earle said his hospital was thwarting dozens of attempts daily. That just has to wear on a HIT executive over time, bearing the responsibility for protecting an organization’s data assets.

So bring on the adrenaline rush and the caffeine, I’m anxious to take in this year’s conference in Las Vegas. I’m here with veteran editors Joseph Goedert, Greg Slabodkin and Brian M. Kalish, and we look forward to covering the week’s events for the industry.

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