Was that the sound of bees, humming in the Autumn sunshine, that so captivated me as I took my seat for the launch of the second annual HIMSS Impact? No, it was infact the animated buzz of its participants – most of them converts to the digital revolution in healthcare – keen to ‘hit the ground running’, share their insights and challenges with their peers and get fresh inspiration.
And as we settled into our seats for the opening address at the splendid Villa Ernst von Bergmann, in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, it was clear that collaborating and connecting, sharing successes and learnings – in a word ‘networking’ - was one of the main elements of the event. Infact, the event’s lead moderator, HIMSS International Chief Clinical Officer Charles Alessi, intimated that the conversations delegates had between keynotes at the one-and-a-half day event were at least as important as the presentations themselves.
“Networking was really what I came here for,” one young German innovator, the owner of a successful health tech start-up, told me. He hoped to meet “like-minded people and companies that I can learn from and collaborate with and will help me grow my company.” One of the ways he was intending to do this was at the matchmaking/ speed dating event the next day. Organised by the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), these prescheduled B2B meetings turned out to be one of the most popular features of Impact18 - and were a hotbed of activity from morning to night.
Another young man, manager of healthcare administration and informatics at a Finnish healthcare organisation, though also there for the networking, was looking for a panacea for some of his healthcare admin headaches: “I know things have to change – we need to go digital. But with no real IT or technology experts in my company and a lot of resistance in the ranks – I don’t know quite how to proceed. I’m hoping to get some ideas from my peers at Impact18.”
The event kicked off on the Wednesday night with a welcome from Christoph Meinel, CEO of the world-renowned Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI), which organised the event along with HIMSS Europe and the Berlin-Brandenburg Cluster for Healthcare Industries (HealthCapital) - and where the second day of HIMSS Impact18 was held. Jorg Steinbach, Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Brandenburg Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, then took to the stage, expressing how poignant the choice of venue was for the event – the villa being a tribute to Ernst von Bergmann, the physician and surgeon who had revolutionised medical wound management, “taking a wide range of surgical procedures to a new level. The same way he was a pioneer at that time, you are all pioneers in this field of Big Data in Medicine and healthcare in general,” he said.
The minister made a point of stressing the responsibility that came with this. “When we are approaching technological innovation - a technological step change - I think it is necessary that we look at the social innovation at the same time.” A nod of assent came from DeepMind Health’s Dominic King, who’d flown in from the UK to give the opening keynote, on AI-enabled healthcare: potential and challenges. “If we forget about the patients and do not care about their emotions then we will end up in a place where everyone is unsatisfied with our achievements. So we need to look at this from a technological point of view but also from a social point of view,” he said.
Rachel Dunscombe, Director of Digital for England’s NHS Digital Academy, was thinking along similar lines when she gave her keynote, How to lead and manage care provider organisations amidst the turbulent times of digital transformation, on the second morning of the conference.
“The role of leaders in the digital age has changed. We now have to be able to deal with two different worlds – people and technology. It’s hugely important that we get this leadership right.
“The traditional leaders of the IT world are not necessarily the leaders of the digital world,” she said. “We now have to get a lot closer to our clinicians, our citizens, our patients… We’re moving from a world where we provided solutions we knew would work for them – IT ‘kit’ systems – to a world where we have to enquire very deeply about the people who use our solutions and what they need. We’ve moved from a job with little contact with people to one of co-creation, collaboration, influencing leadership – so it’s far more of a human job – it’s far more about people.” She encouraged leaders not sure of the way forward to join forces with others and gain strength from this collaboration.
Like the inaugural HIMSS Impact last year, this year’s programme ran on two parallel tracks: one focusing on how to lead digital transformation in the healthcare sector and the other, the already established theme of Big Data in Medicine. Discussion in the digital leadership strand of the conference centred around how to gain citizen trust and get public consent for using health data and how to navigate resistance to change. The Big Data strand focused on the sheer breadth of the data sources we are now able to draw from and which are directly influencing patient care: from genomics and genetics to phenotyping and artificial intelligence (AI).
Highlights were Dominic King’s keynote, which emphasised AI’s wide-ranging potential to revolutionise everything from imaging to oncology – at the same time making a plea for objectivity in the face of the ever-present hype around the topic; Professor Christoph Lippert’s keynote, The medicine of the future is a data science, which explored the power of genomic and genetic and other forms of data in transforming healthcare and Rachel Dunscombe’s address, which had keen-to-learn leaders across the auditorium snapping shots of her slides with their mobile phones.
And the roundtable, European perspectives on digital health, very much echoed the themes in the rest of the conference: topics like the potential of digitisation to resolve global healthcare issues including growing levels of chronic disease and multiple morbidities; the holy grail of interoperability and how to resolve the conundrum of mass consent for data sharing. And it was in this section that the biggest round of applause of the conference was given, to Pekka Sivonen, Executive Director, Digital Transformation of Finnish Industries, Finland, for his presentation on IHAN – or International Human Account Network. A new Finnish project working to create an international protocol giving people control over how their data is being used, IHAN is a kind of IBAN (International Bank Account Number) for personal data.
“We need to give people a reason to share their health data,” he said. “We have more trust from our citizens in Finland than anywhere else … and we’re not going to betray that trust,” he said.
Rachel Dunscombe, herself an inspired leader and tasked with implementing the digital strategy within England’s NHS over the next five years, pulled me aside to express her own views on The road to digitalisation: Autobahn or cobble-stone path?: “There’s a space for both them and a need for both of them,” she said. “The big innovations that we’re bringing into being now – the IoT, wearables, apps, robotics - are very much the cobble-stone road, because you never know quite where it’s going next and it’s quite bumpy. And if you’re not careful and you drive too fast, you’re going to throw everyone off the cart at the back.
“You have to move at a pace where you’re consulting with people, where you’re co-creating with people and that’s where the cobble stone road analogy works for me, because it is bumpy and you have to keep adjusting.
“That very stable IT and technology platform underneath, which enables this all to happen – also very necessary – is the autobahn side of things. And part of our leadership job is we cannot allow people to take away the IT investment and try and digitise with it, because in this case we will disinvest in the platforms that keep us safe and they’ll get old and will not work. So there has to be a space for both of them.”