HIM, Policy, and Politics—Speakers Take Stock of the Current State

Disruptive times call for clarity of purpose, determination, and sometimes the willingness to start all over, according to the speakers at Tuesday’s General Session. From the health information management (HIM) profession to national politics and policy, each speaker reflected a perspective on making sense of the times.

‘A Time to Be Fearless’

Incoming AHIMA President Valerie Watzlaf, MS, RHIA, CHP, FAHIMA, told the General Session audience, “It’s a time to be fearless.” Watzlaf talked about how she found her voice as an individual and as an HIM professional. “Let’s think what we as HIM professionals and members of AHIMA can achieve together. Let each of our voices be heard, positively supporting our HIM profession, because it is a fantastic profession. Be fearless… Let me hear your voice often, strong and clear, so that together we can make AHIMA and our HIM profession the best it can be.”

One way Watzlaf, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, found her voice was through doing research. “I love to conduct research that provides evidence-based best practices, policies, and interventions that can be applied to healthcare and public health… Research provides the knowledge to form the foundation of our profession,” she said. “It is so important to make HIM research a major part of what we do because we know HIM the best.”

Reconnecting with Grace’s Vision

In her first convention address, AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE, evoked the memory of AHIMA’s founder, Grace Whiting Myers, who “imagined a living organization intent on achieving its purpose… Our founder had a vision for what we could be and do

“When AHIMA needs to move faster, let me know. When AHIMA needs to do better, let me know,” says AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris during Tuesday’s General Session.

without an understanding of Big Data, artificial intelligence, the cloud, or any of the amazing technology available to us,” she said.

Harris said she and the board of directors have realized that while AHIMA has a strong position, “we are no more isolated from disruptions than the icons of industry… AHIMA must be the disruptor, not the disrupted.”

There are great opportunities ahead for the profession and for AHIMA, Harris said. “We must ask ourselves: In what ways must we let go of what was in order to not miss what is or what can be?”

To embrace the possibilities, Harris said AHIMA must “clearly articulate our purpose as a 21st century organization and decide whether or not our current mission and vison enable us to achieve this purpose. We must effectively leverage our industry knowledge and brand to navigate technological and demographic change head-on… to identify opportunities to serve as industry disruptors.”

Harris said she believes the association can make the needed pivot. “The question before you is… do you believe? If you believe, all things are possible,” Harris told the audience.

Focus on Current Events

Former chair of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile and conservative strategist Karl Rove appeared in conversation with moderator Jackie Nespral with a focus on current events in politics. Nespral asked them about their outlook on the upcoming midterm elections.

Political strategist Karl Rove reminisces about his days in the White House. When Rove got upset about something in the news, President George W. Bush would tell him, “Don’t worry, history will get it right and we’ll both be dead.”

“The enthusiasm is unbelievable” from the Democratic side, Brazile said. “Millennials are more engaged than ever before; youth engagement is up; there are a number of women who are not just engaged but they’re out there rallying their constituency.”

Brazile said she was excited that so many women were also running for office. “We’re going to see a record number of women winning. It’s their turn, they should run. Why not? …We’re going to make history. The question is, how much history?”

Rove said that historically, it is rare that a first mid-term election is a victory for the president’s party. It may come down to the independent vote, he said. “The quality of the candidate and the quality of the campaigns they mount” will determine the outcome, he said.

There is much work that remains to be done, Rove said, to increase trust in our national and civic institutions. “It worries me that there are only two entities that people say they are confident in—the military and law enforcement,” Rove said. The key, he said, is individual participation in the process. “It’s our responsibility as individuals to participate. We’re all in it together.”

‘What was CMS Thinking?’

Jean Moody Williams, RN, MPP, deputy director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said she was pleased to be able to try to answer the question “What was CMS thinking?” In the last year and a half CMS has set up an agency-wide process to evaluate and streamline regulations to reduce burden and remove obstacles that come between providers and patients, improve efficiency, and improve the experience. In the past, Williams said, CMS has published as many as 11,000 pages of regulations a year. “We rarely have the opportunity to see what we can stop doing, what’s obsolete, make sure the regulations are keeping up with the evidence,” she said. Some of the resulting changes were low-hanging fruit—such as changing a rule that required a signature rather than an initial. Others required customer-centered workgroups that gathered input from clinicians, beneficiaries, and institutional providers. “I sat, I watched, I heard the words that came out of peoples’ mouths,” Williams said.

The process identified documentation, electronic health records, and quality management as burdens for clinicians. CMS looked for pain points and tried to address them by changing regulations or clarifying as needed. They also went through 2,800 individual comments submitted as part of a request for information.

Interoperability has also been a focus. The federal MyHealthEData initiative tries to make health information easier to access and share and supports seamless flow of data from provider to patient. The program is a collaboration between several agencies and seeks to empower patients, encourage innovation, and reduce costs. “We really are working to overhaul how we encourage interoperability,” Williams said.

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