NEW ORLEANS — Not even a lack of drinking water could prevent HIMSS13 from getting off to a pretty impressive start (a citywide health alert was issued Sunday to boil drinking water, which is hard to do in a hotel room, let alone a conference center. I'm pretty sure there are other ways to quench my thirst in New Orleans, though).

Anyway, during Monday's keynote, Warner Thomas, president and CEO of New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System, issued a challenge to the health IT community — vendors and providers — to become more active in transforming the delivery system.

For the vendors in the crowd, Thomas first laid out the challenging scenario that now confronts hospitals and health systems: a shifting payment model, greater transparency, an increased focus on outcomes and declining reimbursements.

"We need partnerships," he said. "Are you a vendor or a partner?"

Thomas also suggested that the entire industry adjust its definition of a successful IT deployment. It's not enough to have a successful go-live. Rather, success should be defined by achieving the Triple Aim. "It's a must-have," he said. "We have to be perfect at getting better."

Finally, Thomas suggested that vendors need to revisit their revenue models as they may be "inconsistent" with the financial outlook for hospitals and health systems.

Big News

We also had a potentially seismic news event Monday when six major IT vendors announced the formation of an alliance aimed at improving health information exchange. Chief executives from McKesson, Cerner, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical and RelayHealth held a joint press conference to announce the formation of the CommonWell Health Alliance.

The independent non-profit aims to promote interoperability between vendor IT systems. Cerner CEO and President Neal Patterson argued that the government wasn't going to tackle the issue, so it was time for the industry to step up. All of the executives said that they'll continue to compete for clients, but said that interoperability is an imperative if health IT is to fulfill its promise.

Addressing the elephant in the room, Athenahealth Chairman and CEO Jonathan Bush said that every vendor is invited to join the alliance, "even those of epic proportions," a not-so-subtle reference to the Wisconsin-based vendor that maintains a sizable market share.

In this video clip, McKesson Corp. chairman and CEO John Hammergren discusses the alliance and its mission.

Time for Standards

I also had the chance to catch up with Intermountain Healthcare CIO Marc Probst. Intermountain is exhibiting at HIMSS for the first time. Probst said it is an effort to spread the word on the health system's brand of innovation. Probst, who also sits on the federal health IT policy committee, which advises ONC and CMS on meaningful use regulations, discusses in this video the need for policymakers to pay closer attention to standards development and what it means to hospitals.