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The Future of Healthcare With Hal Wolf of HIMSS

Few people come into health to make great fortunes. They come to health because they have a calling to make a difference. Healthcare needs to change along with the significant changes in economics, aging populations and growing gaps in the workforce. My advice is to trust your team to tell you where your organization needs […]

Few people come into health to make great fortunes. They come to health because they have a calling to make a difference. Healthcare needs to change along with the significant changes in economics, aging populations and growing gaps in the workforce. My advice is to trust your team to tell you where your organization needs to change, and how to change, so that they can make the difference in health that they signed up to make. When I started at HIMSS, I spent my first 3 months interviewing every person in the organization. They were so clear on what obstacles needed to be moved from their path to make things work more effectively. The clear message to me, which I carry through to my work today, is trust your staff. They will steer you in the right direction.


I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Harold (Hal) Wolf III. Hal is the President and CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). With nearly 35 years of experience, Wolf is respected internationally as a healthcare and informatics executive with areas of expertise in mhealth, product development, integrated care models, marketing, distribution, information technology and innovation implementation. He has helped health systems and providers across the world with end-to-end operations, commissioning, data and architectural design.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Hal! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Mycareer has been one of innovation and the development of cutting edge consumer engagement, along with shifting scaled operations into digital domains. I started my career at MTV Networks in the early days of the channels, which included MTV, Nickelodeon, VHI and Comedy Channel. From there, I moved to interactive television with Time Warner and e-business efforts in telecom. When I saw the opportunity to move to healthcare 16 years ago, I jumped at the chance to envision a new way to deliver care, engage the patient, consumer and citizen in their own health eco-system, and participate in the improvement of general society. I have been very fortunate.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In the past two years, HIMSS has been in the midst of a large change management effort to maximize our structure in support of our 80,000 members and the many organizations we partner with across the globe. The incredible response of our staff to our new mission to “reform the global health ecosystem through the power of information AND technology” has been exciting. I have never seen so much energy and desire to change, reform and lead, by every person inside HIMSS. It has been very rewarding.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Within the first six months of starting in my role, I was standing in front of 8,000 members at our Global Health Conference being introduced as the new CEO. It was a big moment, and of course I was anxious to make a positive first impression. I took the stage and glanced at the reminder outline on the monitor, which suddenly zipped past every word of my outline and leaped to “thank you.” For the next 12 min, I spoke without the rehearsed outline, and just delivered my message from the heart. In the end, it was well received. My lesson, trust your message and your heart, as it will pull you through.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

HIMSS is a global non-profit that is deeply trusted as a neutral organization pushing to “do the right thing” when it comes to impacting the policies and goals of digital health strategies of hospitals, clinics, systems and governments. The consistent request for our participation in internal government deliberations is amazing. Recently a government came to us and thanked us for helping them break through the internal arguments that were leading them nowhere. They were able to change their course using our maturity models to exemplify how the global benchmarks demand they change at a much faster and deeper rate. It’s an honor to support change at this level.

What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?

Few people come into health to make great fortunes. They come to health because they have a calling to make a difference. Healthcare needs to change along with the significant changes in economics, aging populations and growing gaps in the workforce. My advice is to trust your team to tell you where your organization needs to change, and how to change, so that they can make the difference in health that they signed up to make. When I started at HIMSS, I spent my first 3 months interviewing every person in the organization. They were so clear on what obstacles needed to be moved from their path to make things work more effectively. The clear message to me, which I carry through to my work today, is trust your staff. They will steer you in the right direction.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?

First off, the US does not have a formal healthcare system. We have great care in many places and not so great care in others, but there is not a system in place specifically designed to ensure that every citizen receives primary care and access to secondary care without risk of severe financial consequences. That means that tens of millions of Americans still go each day having to choose between putting food on the table or buying some level of healthcare insurance/services. The US rating is based on the entire population of citizens, not just those who receive great care from many outlets. All of the details behind the ratings are derivatives of that reality.

You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

So funny you ask this question, because I just purchased a magic wand a few days ago…

  1. Interconnect health data and information across the care continuum to reduce errors and inform clinicians and individuals alike.
  2. Move to value based care outcomes with consistent measurements that include total health, not just specific encounters. This drives an end to end look at each individuals care and outcomes and begins to include the social determinants which are critical to total health
  3. Adopt a more complete system approach to health financing which supplements access to services based on need (there are many systems that do this today without doing away with the independent delivery providers or insurers).
  4. Recognize that the encounter paradigm we grew up with cannot go forward unchanged, so reimbursement models to support digital health engagement and care must be accelerated.
  5. Retrain our workforces to embrace the new paradigm of care and teach all the way through to the medical schools. We need to reform our health eco-system.
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