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I’m still recovering from the month of May. I was all up in the healthcare, pretty much 24/7, which differs not-much from my usual roll, other than that in the period of three weeks, I was in DC for eight of 21 days, May 14 through June 5, attending HM13 (the annual meeting of the Society of Hospital Medicine, which I covered for The Hospitalist magazine podcasts) and Health Data Palooza IV as just-me on a Consumer Circle scholarship.

What I saw and heard at both conferences made me hopeful for the future of healthcare … sort of. As inspiring as both of them were, I found the SHM conference more of a hope engine for just-e-patient me than the rah-rah tech-fest that was #hdpalooza. Granted, HM13 was organized and run by a medical society that has a big upward swing on its membership, and in the income of said members, which means that there was a breadth and depth of content that wouldn’t be available at non-clinical conferences.

hm13 logoI got plenty of mental floss out of both of them. Here are the high (and low) lights:

  • Hands-on practicum at HM13 featuring portable ultrasound guided bedside procedures for the hospitalist. You have not lived until you’ve seen a hospitalist put a central line in a Costco chicken that’s tricked out with liquid-filled tubes serving as major blood vessels. Training that is both fun and practical transmits sticky knowledge. And I’m not taking the grape juice that was cast in the role of blood for this session.
  • Dr. Alberto Puig’s History of the Physical Exam HM13 breakout session offered laughter (imagine doing a pelvic exam on a standing patient fully garbed in Victorian bustle-wear), horror (doctors assessed health status for centuries by *tasting* patients’ urine; and let’s not forget those lovely leeches), and a whole lot of thought-provoking questions about what a physical exam means, and how important touch is to the practice of medicine.
  • Cognitive Diagnostic Error workshop, where a team of patient safety experts from UPenn demonstrated the risks of thinking too fast in clinical situations. Slower thinking is harder, but it will prevent mis-diagnosing and other medical errors.
  • Meeting Dr. Gordon Guyatt, the man who coined the phrase Evidence Based Medicine, and watching him shred study after study using funnel plots of the study’s data. Eye-opening doesn’t begin to describe that particular HM13 experience.
  • A cost transparency workshop! At a hospital medicine conference! Led by Dr. Chris Moriates from UCSF, this session showed the power of shared decision-making across the clinical team *and* included the patient/caregiver in the equation. We’re winning!
  • health data palooza iv logoBest of the Best at Health Data Palooza? AthenaHealth CEO Jonathan Bush’s keynote, where he was by turns hilarious, pointed, inspiring, and infuriating – all good things, as far as I’m concerned. His best line? “Obama was right. There, I said it.” After which he went on to again call the feds on the carpet for lack of testicular fortitude when it comes to setting up a national health data system. He has a great post on The Health Care Blog about his time on the platform, and his message.
  • Biggest disappointment of #hdpalooza? Atul Gawande moderated a panel on the new payment models emerging from Obamacare. Given his writing on healthcare costs, I hoped for a vibrant discussion on how health IT systems are enabling better cost visibility and management, for both the system (providers/payers) and users (patients). Twas not to be. What the session amounted to was a single visual involving CME credits for clinical folks in the audience being at risk if any panelist wound up mouthing commercial messages, accompanied by a round-robin of words into microphones from a sausage party of dude-panelists. Even for an IT geek, this was a snooze-fest of epic proportions. Huge disappointment.
  • Channeling the late Richard Dawson in a game show session called Family Feud’n, where providers and payers battled over what patients said they wanted as value from the healthcare system … well, it was eye-catching. It was funny, in parts. Mostly, I wondered what the hell they were trying to accomplish. Healthcare providers and healthcare payers are forever set in opposition? Patients are just objects, the “product,” and don’t get a voice other than in surveys? I call #fail on that one …
  • Illuminating Disease at the Speed of Light session was a highlight, with researchers and data modelers teaming up to show how data visualization can accelerate progress in clinical studies of disease. I was riveted, and I’m not even a full-on big-data geek.
  • Worst part of both conferences? The running from pillar to post to attend the sessions I most wanted to see, followed by sitting in said session for up to two hours. Seriously, what is up with healthcare conferences that make us sit on our keesters when getting up and moving around would feel so darn good? Conference organizers should start figuring out how to do “walking sessions” that mirror the rise of walking meetings and standing/walking workstations.

Still glaringly missing from all of this rah-rah is the actual, real-world voice of the patient – HM13 can be (somewhat) forgiven for that, since it’s a medical society annual conference. I will note that, in all my interviews for HM13 podcasts, the question, “How can patients help?” was warmly welcomed by everyone asked, and answered with enthusiasm and insight. Figuring out how to break the walls down between clinicians and patients – “gimme my damn data,” two-way edition – using health IT systems as the wedge seems to be a place to start. But letting patients help there is utterly crucial.

Speaking of sitting too long … time for a bike ride to my polling place to vote in today’s off-year election primary in my state. I’m voting for a guy who’s worked on opening up health data. Win/win … ?

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