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Down New Orleans Way: Looking Forward to the Swirl of HIMSS13

February 19, 2013
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Reflecting on HIMSS Conferences past--and upcoming

Like the return of the cliff swallows to San Juan Capistrano in California, the annual HIMSS Conference comes around for healthcare IT leaders as the most familiar of rituals every year. Indeed, the dominance of the HIMSS Conference in our industry is such that all the healthcare IT vendors’ selling and marketing cycles are scheduled around it. For myself, there have been many such “swallows’ returns”—this year’s HIMSS Conference will be my twenty-second. That’s right: I’ve attended and participated in every HIMSS Conference beginning in 1991, with the exception of one year when I was not able to attend.

I remember very well my first few “HIMSSes,” and the overwhelming quality of the conference, which has grown from 1,800 attendees that year (check out this fascinating history of the organization) to over 37,000 last year (obviously, a whole lot more overwhelming these days, at least in terms of size and scope!). Even back then, though, there was an outsized quality to the conference, and that quality has only grown over time, as attendance and vendor participation have exploded.

Meanwhile, Like all those grizzled veterans of past annual events, I have lots of memories of HIMSS Conferences over the last two-plus decades. One of the most memorable HIMSSes, for me, was in 2007, when our conference was the first one of its massive size—over 24,000 attendees—to to be held in the gut-rehabbed Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, following the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005. There had been a lot of nervousness in the industry about attending a convention of that size following the terrible disaster that was Katrina. Would everything be alright? In the end, HIMSS executives, armed with assurances from city leaders, kept plans for New Orleans in place, and on a personal level, I was delighted that we were able to help boost the economy of New Orleans so soon after the post-Katrina cleanup.  Indeed, local leaders were so grateful that the city’s main newspaper put the HIMSS Conference story on page one of their daily paper.

Fast-forwarding the calendar six years, the HIMSS Conference is bigger than ever these days; I wouldn’t be surprised in fact, if attendance at least matched that of the HIMSS Conference last year, when over 37,000 attendees flocked to Las Vegas for HIMSS 2011. More substantively, when I look at the evolution of the HIMSS Conference as the conference has evolved forward along with the industry, I see a conference with greater clarity and content substance, just as the healthcare industry, driven forward by national policy leaders and legislators, and public and private purchasers and payers, is benefiting from a policy clarity that didn’t exist years ago.

In that context, it has been particularly gratifying to host our Innovator Awards reception the past several years. The core of our Innovator Awards program has been about recognizing teams of healthcare leaders at hospitals, medical groups, health systems, and health information exchanges whose efforts have led to IT-facilitated innovations that are moving us towards the new healthcare, and which are highly replicable. As the purchasers and payers of healthcare push providers harder and harder to achieve new levels of patient safety, care quality, cost-effectiveness, transparency, and accountability, the kinds of innovations created by these teams will be among the many success stories that can help guide forward similar teams in patient care organizations nationwide.

This year, we are honoring several wonderful teams, including those from NorthShore University HealthSystem, the Louisiana Public Health Institute, the Colorado Beacon Consortium, Shannon Medical Center, Beaumont Health System, and Ozark Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. Each of these teams has made pioneering steps towards the new healthcare that everyone should know about. Won’t you join us for our reception honoring these teams, beginning at 6 PM on Monday, March 4, at the Palace Café in New Orleans? You’ll be glad you did!

…Just as policy leaders, purchasers and payers in healthcare will be glad of the progress that pioneering teams like these are making in moving towards the new healthcare. And just as HIMSS attendees will be excited to hear about the many, many innovations taking place broadly across U.S. healthcare these days.

The HIMSS Conference is guaranteed every year to be a swirl of activity and interactions. Still, more than two decades after my first HIMSS Conference, I remain as excited as I was back in 1991, to participate in the industry’s dominant conference. Indeed, at a time of exceptional progress and ferment in our field, there won’t be a better place to be the first week of March than ‘Nawlins. Come and enjoy the jambalaya and the beignets. But make sure, too, that you leave with future-focused insights you can share with your colleagues back home.