A conversation with Hal Wolf, the new President and CEO of HIMSS

This week, BJ-HC caught up with Hal Wolf, veteran of the digital health industry and former Chief Operating Officer of Kaiser Permanente. Starting his new role as President and Chief Executive Officer of HIMSS, Wolf gave us an insight into his plans and expectations for the organisation going forward.

You’ve been on the HIMSS Board of Directors for more than four years now. What will you take forward from the legacy left by Steve Lieber’s leadership?

First of all, huge shoes to fill! Steve has been an incredible CEO for HIMSS, he’s driven unparalleled growth. I’ve had the fortune of working with him during the past four years, thinking about where HIMSS could grow to add value, and he just brings wonderful insight that will be greatly missed.

It is very important to understand that the foundational pieces of HIMSS that Steve was instrumental in putting in place is tied to our members, public policy, innovation and improving health through the use of information and technology.

We call it through “IT”, but it’s truly both. What we need to be able to do with HIMSS is not change what we’re doing, but take this amazing foundation and add value to it globally.

And what areas has HIMSS had the most impact in?

Through events, through chapters, through communities that have been built, HIMSS creates an environment within the ecosystem of health for people to convene, bringing many different facets of the industry together.

Then you have our analytical work such as EMRAM (Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model) and our leadership in cybersecurity, interoperability, reimbursement policy and influence for the growth of digital health in general.

All of these are pieces that HIMSS has had an influence and intends to build on.

You’re well known for your expertise in mHealth and integrated care models, among others. Do you see these as priority areas for HIMSS as part of your strategy moving forward?

HIMSS looks across the entire ecosystem and, yes, the areas of integrated care models, the development of information and digital health, the use of information in the provider space, those are absolutely areas of priority, and they’re a big part of the HIMSS community.

In addition, there’s a lot more information than ever before facing consumers, providers, administrators. One of the areas of critical focus for HIMSS is extending ourselves more deeply into the provider community. We’re already touching it, but it hasn’t necessarily been a major focus.

You've previously mentioned HIMSS has an opportunity to dive deeper into enabling innovation across the globe. How will this develop under your leadership?

Innovation is fundamentally the recognition that things can be done differently and that there are toolsets that allow them to be done differently or that need to be developed. HIMSS is going to be thinking about making innovation even more prevalent in all of our events, our communications, our news. We want to create even greater communication and capabilities so that people can see innovation, spread it and react to it faster than ever before.

Health 2.0, who recently joined the HIMSS family, has great examples of innovation. It epitomises this focus because it is fundamentally nurturing the development of new products, services and applications.

HIMSS is obviously well known for its annual conference in the US. Will its success help form a blueprint for establishing the newly launched HIMSS Europe ’18 conference and UK e-Health Week event in London?

What I can say is that we have some amazing leadership, with great experience, that are bringing fresh ideas forward to HIMSS Europe 18’ and UK e-Health Week. I’m excited to participate and understand everything that’s occurring in Europe and about the trajectory that we have set up.

A significant portion of my career has been spent working, teaching and participating in the European and Scandinavian regions, including living in London for several years. It is very exciting to see the HIMSS growth in participation and added value to the health industry.

What are some of the key factors that can drive progress in digital health? How would you define progress in this sector?

I put a lot of thought into that over the years. Digital health is about enablement, about helping and supporting, through the use of information tools, to provide connectivity within the health ecosystem.

Progress is defined by delivering the right care, right information, right place, right time to the patient, citizen and consumer. I purposely use all three, citizen, consumer and patient, because each one of us wears all three hats simultaneously and all of them are part of a digital strategy.

I never thought of digital health strictly as technology; there is a technology dependency, but how this gets used and how it gets integrated through people and processes is crucial. Financial pressures, as well, are critically important, but generally I see the digital health space as paramount to basic healthcare.

In the UK, explicitly, you’ve got tremendous leadership and we are seeing that the NHS has a keen understanding of their operational and quality challenges and I think excellent efforts are being made to innovate.

What do you see as top challenges for healthcare information technology today?

I think there are three key challenges; one is around healthcare information technology continuing to work hand in hand with the business. And the relationship between healthcare IT and the provider business has never been more important. The provider hopefully will always be one step ahead of the request through IT.

Challenge number two is information, with interoperability and data hierarchy as two important pieces, which, of course, we’re focusing on.

And the third part is the security of information, because we know that if we can come up with a way to protect information, someone’s out there trying to mess that up for us.

I think all three of those are critically important to us in health IT.

What are your thoughts on levels of digitisation across healthcare in Europe and, more specifically, the UK?

Across the continent, I think everyone recognises the opportunity, but countries have different components of the maturity models.

Some have been dealing with legacy environments, some have been dealing with fresh ones, but in the experience that I’ve had through the years of meeting with governments, regional leaders, administrators, everyone recognises that the change in healthcare that is upon us is both welcome and needed.

In the UK, explicitly, you’ve got tremendous leadership and we are seeing that the NHS has a keen understanding of their operational and quality challenges and I think excellent efforts are being made to innovate.

All of these things are going on simultaneously and it’s a huge endeavour. Money is tight, it’s going to remain tight, so I do not underestimate what an important challenge everyone has on their plate.

How do you see the HIMSS global footprint changing over the next five years?

The footprint will be larger because we are growing, we continue to add membership, new areas of focus and we’re also helping in terms of integration and standardisation within universal platforms.

And lastly, what is your favourite piece of technology that you use at home?

It’s probably not a big surprise, but a fundamental piece of technology that I use is my smartphone. It’s outstanding how much I’m able to do on my own with it, so that is my favourite use of technology on a daily basis.


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