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HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf talks about health equity and digital health | HIMSS 2023


More leaders are pursuing concrete plans to close disparities, Wolf said, and offering more digital health options is a critical element in expanding access to underserved groups.

Chicago - After three years of struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, Hal Wolf says health organizations are starting to do more long-term planning and are looking seriously at efforts to improve health equity.

Hal Wolf, president and CEO of HIMSS, talks with media at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition. (Photo: Ron Southwick)

Hal Wolf, president and CEO of HIMSS, talks with media at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition. (Photo: Ron Southwick)

Wolf, the president and CEO of HIMSS, sees digital health as essential in expanding access to healthcare globally. He spoke with reporters Wednesday morning at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition.

“When you're looking at health equity plans, and the concept behind it, what we recognize is this invaluable link between the development of digital health infrastructure and its ability to reach people, from an access and quality standpoint, that occurs versus their need to go straight into an encounter-based paradigm within the walls of a hospital,” Wolf said.

In his conversations with leaders of healthcare organizations and those in government positions relating to healthcare, Wolf said there’s a growing recognition that they need to strive toward health equity.

The COVID-19 pandemic derailed all kinds of plans for all healthcare organizations, but Wolf said he’s sensing a genuine commitment in moving forward with plans to improve health equity.

“The strategies that are being put into place are absolutely concrete,” Wolf said. “I think it's going to take a couple of years to get the full measure out of it.”

HIMSS has developed a partnership with the World Health Organization-Europe Region to promote digital health and evaluate its growth.

The organization has had plans to expand its presence in Latin America and other emerging markets, but some of those efforts were delayed in the pandemic, Wolf said. But HIMSS is planning to engage more in Latin America, he said.

In introductory remarks before the first keynote session Tuesday, Wolf talked about the need for healthcare organizations to embrace digital health as they struggle with a lack of staff. “It has everything to do with workforce shortages,” Wolf said.

Digital health is aligned with the demands of patients, as more people are looking for care at home than inside the hospital, he said. “Even if we could build any hospital or clinic we wanted, it would be hard to staff them,” Wolf said.

Talking with reporters Wednesday morning, Wolf said the HIMSS conference makes a big contribution in bringing the public and private sectors together to address digital health.

“We have the public and private sector on the stage with each other, in the exhibits, talking about the solutions together,” Wolf said Wednesday.

Here are some other notes from Wolf’s discussion with reporters Wednesday.

Attendance: The final numbers are still to come, but Wolf said the attendance for the conference looks to be around 35,000. “It’s a huge turnout,” Wolf said.

Around 20,000 attended the HIMSS conference in Orlando last year, but at that point, some restrictions during the pandemic were still easing. This year’s conference is the first truly big HIMSS show since COVID-19 arrived in 2020. Wolf praised Chicago as a great destination, including McCormick Place as the site of the conference.

“Chicago has done everything they can to roll out the carpet,” Wolf said.

Artificial intelligence: AI has been perhaps the dominant conversation topic of the conference, and Wolf was asked if it is more than just a hot new trend. Wolf said the conference was aiming to reflect the enormous interest in AI in healthcare. “We want to have a proper conversation and make sure that the thoughtful conversation about how AI is used is brought forward,” Wolf said.

Next year: The conference returns to Orlando next March. In 2025, the HIMSS Conference will take place in Las Vegas.

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