By Linda Kloss

The first AHIMA convention I attended was held in Colorado Springs in 1970, 50 years ago! Over the decades, I missed very few meetings. For 15 of those years, I was responsible for the meeting as AHIMA’s CEO. There were always challenges, like the month following 9/11, but nothing like a pandemic! Bottom line, my congratulations to the AHIMA team and all the speakers and exhibitors who pulled off AHIMA20. The technology platform worked well for live webcast education. The platform was less robust for exhibitors and social events, but for education delivery, I thought it worked very well. The speakers were live and it was easy to see and hear them and to read slides. And the room wasn’t freezing!

Most importantly, AHIMA20 programming was content rich. By this I mean that the education content was important and timely, forward looking, and thought provoking. Live webcast speakers were well prepared, and delivered their presentations professionally. The pandemic was a backdrop acknowledged in all the sessions I attended, but the focus was on the implications of this experience for health information management going forward. Speakers addressed the weaknesses laid bare by our pandemic response, but they focused on how it can help shape a more agile future. 

Reflecting on education content, I have five takeaways:

  1. A renewed focus on privacy a focus on evolving privacy policy preceded the pandemic, but COVID has made many questions more urgent. Speakers described data protection approaches and shortcoming of our fragmented, sector specific HIPAA approach. We learned about Europe’s General Data Protection Rule (GDPR)and similar approaches being legislated in US states and other countries around the world. Kaveh Safavi, Senior Managing Director Global Health, Accenture summed it up, “GDPR is the direction of travel.” But don’t expect new federal rules in the US soon because there are too many other burning issues that need to be front and center for some time to come.  In the meantime, states will gain important experience setting new data protection boundaries.
  2. The breadth and depth of digital health from a global focus on telehealth to an interesting discussion on electronic case reporting for public health, AHIMA20 examined emerging technologies and applications. Speakers addressed digital contract tracing, artificial intelligence for medical record indexing and in aid of surgical documentation, secure document exchange and skin applied patient identification technology. We learned about enterprise release of information systems and the consumer-facing Verisma Request App.
  3. More sophisticated data managementSpeakers discussed integration of clinical and administrative data, two primary streams of health data that have too long been delinked. We learned about important initiatives to step up patient matching standards and reduce matching errors.  Predictive and augmented analytics and their application to clinical, public health, and management use cases were described. While healthcare continue to lag other industries in analytics, access to data is improving and the next years should bring important breakthroughs.
  4. Health data is human information – A common thread through presentations was the importance of returning to a fundamental understanding that health information is about a person, about their health and well-being, and about their preferences. In the words of AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs-Harris, ‘’When we focus on our higher purpose, we help drive the value of health data and ensure that health information, with all its complexity and nuances, stays human and relevant.”
  5. Innovative leadership – Speakers addressed leadership of the virtual workplace, managing culture in challenging times and process improvement for CDI, revenue cycle, coding and as noted earlier, to enterprise, technology-based release of information. We learned about evidence based operations management and about the challenge of leading change. In the words of Karen Marhefka, Principal, Impact Advisors “You can either be a catcher or a pitcher. A catcher waits for another to throw out a challenge; a pitcher, initiates change.” It is the pitchers who drive change. 

Like all things virtual these days, we trade off connection for convenience, social experience for safety. Attendee chats revealed that there were many first time or new participants who noted they would not have been able to attend this year — or other years — if it involved the cost and employer approvals needed to travel. Long time meeting goers like me miss the casual meet ups and conversations with friends associated with a grand once a year gathering. But I took away a new appreciation of the virtual meeting for providing broader access and a solid learning environment. My prediction: we will not go back to a totally in-person model; there will be a creative blending of approaches for professional education so the opportunity can be more broadly shared. I look forward to seeing what AHIMA creates for AHIMA21. 

One final observation. I was very proud of Verisma and the many AHIMA members who made possible the company’s $5,000 donation to the AHIMA Foundation. This donation reflects individual and state association pledges to protect the truth and accuracy of health information. Add your name to this pledge embracing the values of HIM at: