INDIAN WELLS, CALIF. — Many of the health IT executives gathered in this quaint resort town seem unfazed by the sweltering heat — it hit the mid-90s — that greeted them today. After all, they are facing plenty of heat back at their workshops.


OK. That was a pretty bad one. Sorry, but I just felt it necessary to point out that I nearly melted today all for the love of my job.

Enough of that though, let's get to it. Close to 700 health IT professionals are here in Southern California's Coachella Valley for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executive's 20th Fall Forum. The meeting is a unique opportunity for provider-based IT executives and vendor representatives to network and learn in a relatively low-key setting. The atmosphere is much different than at, say, HIMSS' annual meeting. There isn't really an aura of sales and deal making. While the vendor companies that make up the CHIME Foundation and help sponsor the meeting do conduct focus groups here, those are really aimed more at information gathering than a direct sales pitch. To be sure, some deals are getting done, but that's not really why everyone is here.

Generally, the CIOs and vendor reps I talked with are energized. At the same time, they are painfully aware that the demands on IT departments are growing at an unprecedented rate. It's not just meaningful use and ICD-10, but also the increased emphasis on population health and the shift to reimbursement model that is highly reliant on outcomes data.

That thinking was evident at the breakout sessions I attended as well. In one about IT governance, Debe Gash, vice president and CIO at Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo., detailed how her 11-hospital system takes a very concerted approach to prioritizing and implementing IT projects. Interestingly, she noted that meaningful use has not been the driving factor behind establishing a robust governance process. Instead, it is all of the pressure of health reform and the need to cut costs. The governance process, she said, helps Saint Luke's not only prioritize, but also weed out unnecessary projects.

At Saint Luke's, a strategic planning council sits on top of the governance pyramid. Beneath that are prioritization groups, made up of CNOs, physicians and others, which rank the IT projects and present those to the council. User groups provide real-world feedback of IT systems along the way.

Jamie Nelson, vice president and CIO at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, joined Gash. Nelson has only been on the job for six months and is at the front end of implementing a new governance process. After the presentation, she told me that governance is especially critical now as IT departments are asking for major capital outlays, all while CEOs and boards are trying to hold down costs.

The day closed out with a keynote by ONC chief Farzad Mostashari, M.D. Much of his talk was the same stump speech he's delivered before — espousing the virtues of health IT. He said that the foundation has been laid during the past three years under meaningful use to build a system that uses data in a proactive manner. He cited the example of Dignity Health. The system, he said, used to look through patient charts post discharge to ensure that quality measures were followed. Now, the system runs those checks electronically while patients are still in the hospital.

It's about going from a retrospective, accounting approach to a prospective, action-oriented approach, he said.

Mostashari also implored vendors to develop IT products that truly enable meaningful use. "Don't just take the shortest route to certification, but make it meaningful," he said. And to CIOs, he had this message: "Hold each other accountable." If a product they've installed doesn't live up to their standards, let the vendor know it. "Let's say, 'Get this right.' "

Look for more coverage of the CHIME Fall Forum in my blog tomorrow.