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What to Expect at HIMSS13: An Interview with Steve Lieber

February 17, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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HIMSS’ president and CEO shares his thoughts on the association’s present and future plans

HIMSS13, the annual conference of the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), will be held March 3-7 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Over a period of many years, the conference has grown tremendously in terms of the number of educational sessions, as well as the healthcare IT professional attendance and vendor participation. HIMSS12 in Las Vegas welcomed over 37,000 attendees, a new record. This year’s HIMSS Conference will bring attendees more sessions and educational and networking options than ever, at a time when healthcare leaders are faced with more policy and regulatory mandates, and more operational imperatives, than ever.

H. Stephen Lieber has been president and CEO of HIMSS since 2000. In the 13 years since he joined the organization, he has grown the HIMSS staff to a size ten times larger than it was when he joined the organization. Not only does HIMSS produce its annual conference in the United States; it runs a number of international programs every year as well. In fact, in late January when Steve Lieber sat down to talk with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland, he had just returned from a multi-continent business trip on behalf of the association. Below are excerpts from that interview.

How was 2012 for the HIMSS organization?

It was a really good year, and not too surprising of a year. I think we all kind of knew what to expect last year. There were no real surprises for us as an organization. The uncertainty was the election; but it was a fairly expected sort of series of events in 2012.

H. Stephen Lieber

Is HIMSS continuing to grow, staff-wise?

We have over 300 staff now; that’s a ten-fold increase since I started in 2000. We’re focusing a lot of energy around different themes in the United States, and looking to expand our activities in Europe, the Middle East and Asia now. I’m actually spending much more time on the global enterprise. The organization’s changed a lot.

And you’re getting to travel a great deal internationally. How glamorous of you!

It’s anything but glamorous! I got in from London at the end of a ten-day trip last night, and didn’t look very glamorous. [laughs]

Will anything be different at the HIMSS Conference in 2013 from 2012?

I thought about it this morning, anticipating your question. And I think the first message is, one, let’s recognize that the healthcare system and the technology around it don’t change that dramatically in one single year. The issues tend to be multiple-year issues. So, obviously, we’ve been focusing on meaningful use for years now, and will continue to do so for a while. And if you dig into the programming, you start to find other themes that really are secondary headlines. But there are some other things that are not necessarily new, though the emphasis that we put on them varies from year to year. So, for example, the broad topic of mobile health, which encompasses consumer engagement through mobile devices, mobile applications, all of those sorts of technologies, that entire area is trending up. It’s grown dramatically in the past five years; and you’ll see that reflected in our programming this year.

And actually, it’s not yet quite integrated into the delivery world, to where mobile and stationary technology are totally integrated; so that conference audience might not necessarily always attend a HIMSS conference. So that area will continue to grow at the HIMSS Conference as well.

Another area is the area of business intelligence and analytics; that’s grown considerably over the past few years. And the interest in that area is worldwide. So you’ll see sessions focused on the concept of big data. But I see that across the world, because the issues of efficiency and quality are universal, whether you have an insurance-based system as we do, or a budget-based system as in Europe. Everybody’s focused on cost and quality, so that’s certainly a strong focus.

And the changes already made in the reimbursement system, including around accountable care, as well as the anticipation that we all have that the reimbursement systems will change even further, since we have to do something about the cost of care, those will naturally be a focus. Accordingly, one of the things we’re very focused on is how technology can support a continuity of care-type of change. So you’ll find that to be a significant change.

And a message I’d like to bring out is the importance of making sure that other strategic leaders, beyond the IT professionals, know what’s going on. So you’ll see more of a focus on those people as well. And if you’re going to transform healthcare, you have to get beyond your traditional core audience, so you’ll see sessions focused on non-IT executives. The mixture of keynotes is fairly typical for us—policy, operations, innovation—around areas we’ve long believed were cornerstones of healthcare operations.

Can you say how much the conference has grown, revenues-wise, over the past year or two?

If you look at the organization as a whole, over the past three years—and our fiscal year begins in July 1—so, looking at this year’s year-end forecast, versus where we were three years earlier—overall, the organization has grown by 60 percent on a revenue basis. We’ve made some fairly big acquisitions, including acquiring virtually total ownership of MedTech Media, and we’ve expanded that business—our media business unit now represents about 22-23-percent of the total organization.