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By Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE


The AHIMA20 Virtual Conference is not the event any of us had planned for at the beginning of 2020. Atlanta was our original host city, but the pandemic had other ideas.

However, the AHIMA community has done more than move from a destination to a digital platform. In crucial ways, we reassessed our role as advocates, educators, and stakeholders in the global healthcare system.

This has been a year darkened by uncertainty and doubt. Our nation has been roiled by crises—both recent and ancient—that have tested our faith in our institutions, each other, and ourselves.

It feels to many of us that we’ve lived through enough world-altering events to fill several lifetimes—and we still have an election to look forward to. We’re exhausted and yearn for a return to normalcy: visiting elderly parents, hugging our friends, traveling to new places.

Those days will come, but for now we must adjust to new realities and consider a new way of doing things. We associate the phrase “a new normal” with something negative. I look at it from a different perspective.

In this moment of crisis and peril, we must honestly assess what it means to “return to normal,” because for too many people normal means being left behind.

For example, COVID-19’s epochal impact on Black Americans is not a result of a unique characteristic of the virus, but a gross magnification of inequities and public health failures that long pre-date the pandemic, including deeply ingrained healthcare and access disparities, the persistence of structural racism, the disproportionate vulnerabilities to adverse socio-economic factors, and enduring bias in both data collection and contextualization.

For all the horrors inflicted by the virus, it offers us the chance to finally address long-standing racial injustices ossified in many American institutions, including healthcare, and make a turn toward a more equitable and just future for all communities.

“We associate the phrase ‘a new normal’ with something negative. I look at it from a different perspective.

In this moment of crisis and peril, we must honestly assess what it means to ‘return to normal,’ because for too many people normal means being left behind.”

For this reason, we have placed emphasis on capturing and applying social determinants of health (SDOH) data—which include factors such as economic stability, social connections, and behavioral health—to help healthcare providers create meaningful health journeys for individuals and communities.

Even many of the evergreen topics that appear year after year—patient identification and matching, privacy and security, and data integration—have been designed with an eye toward building a better healthcare system, one that benefits all stakeholders.

I join you in the hope of coming together once again, but I ask that each of you move forward during this conference in the spirit of striking new ground, asking uncomfortable questions, and absorbing hard truths about the future we will create together.

Despite the trials and tribulations of 2020, my faith in the health information community remains steadfast and unshaken. I am excited to take this journey with you and wish you an insightful and illuminating virtual experience.

Finally, I would like to thank the entire AHIMA family—our leaders, staff, volunteers, and members—for all of their hard work transforming our largest in-person event to a unique virtual and interactive experience.

Whether you are seeking cutting-edge education, evaluating the latest market innovations, or want to foster new professional connections, the AHIMA20 Virtual Conference is the place to be.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will take the time to register today. Please be sure to visit our News and Announcements page to learn more about our education domains, robust sessions, dynamic exhibiting companies, and the dedicated AHIMA staff who have put this extraordinary transformation on the cusp of reality. Be sure to listen to our latest podcast episode on navigating the AHIMA20 Virtual Conference.

I look forward to seeing you there and taking another step toward a brighter future.

Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE, is CEO of AHIMA.

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