H. Stephen Lieber, the president and CEO of the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), annually finds himself in a position of both influence and frenetic activity, as he leads his organization’s troops forward to prepare for the HIMSS Conference, a convention that enjoys an unrivalled position of dominance in the healthcare information technology sector. This year, HIMSS12, as it’s officially called, will be held Feb. 20-24 at the Venetian Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas.
And though for a few years, a few years back, some industry observers wondered aloud whether a slight softness in attendance and the absence of a few very high-profile vendors might signal a diminution in the importance of the annual HIMSS Conference, in the past couple of years, with the meaningful use process and healthcare reform pushing patient care organizations forward into significant change as never before, doubts over the conference’s centrality in the healthcare IT industry’s calendar year.
Indeed, as Lieber, who is leading his thirteenth HIMSS Conference, says, all indications are that attendance at this year’s HIMSS Conference could be more robust than ever. Lieber spoke recently with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding innovations at this year’s conference, and his perceptions of the evolution of the conference overall. Below are excerpts from that interview.
What kind of attendance are you expecting this year for Las Vegas?
We had about 31,000 people last year in Orlando, and this year, we’re running about 15 percent over the registration figures we were seeing at the same time last year. So I won’t be surprised if we end up in the 12-15 percent range above last year; all indications demonstrate that we’re moving in that direction.
H. Stephen Lieber
How about with regard to exhibitor participation?
On the exhibition floor, we’ve basically sold out all the space we have. Last year, we had 1,032 companies, and right now, we have 1,038.
And you don’t have room for anybody else?
That’s right. We’re now working on what we call kiosks; and those are basically smaller companies contacting us anyway; but it’s a place where they can set up a display for their products and services. It’s basically the same number as last year, but the exhibition space is about 8 percent larger than what we had in Orlando last year.
What would you like our readers to know about in terms of innovations at this year’s conference?
There are actually two things I’d like to highlight. One of the new things we’re doing this year is offering what we’re calling knowledge centers, and we’ve got six of these on the show floor. They’re designed to bring together in one place multiple experiences. We will offer HIMSS-generated education that we’ve created, in the knowledge centers; we also have exhibitor case study presentations available. The knowledge centers will be on the show floor.
How many will there be?
There will be six of them. The subjects are: accountable care organizations, mobile health, medical device integration, clinical and business analytics, cloud computing, and ICD-10. So around those six, the idea is to bring together independent content, vendor content, networking areas, exhibitions, and other HIMSS resources, as well as some knowledge experts who will be assigned to the centers at various times from both the vendor community and the HIMSS membership. The idea is behind the knowledge centers is that you could go there and learn some things. We’ve had a previous version of this with knowledge areas that were created by vendors, but this is more ambitious. We’re creating natural gathering areas for people to talk together and learn. So that networking, which has always been a critical part of HIMSS, will now be enhanced in this way.
Was this a staff-generated idea?
Yes, it was a staff-generated idea based on input we had gotten from members and vendors. And we’re always trying to get people together; we’ve got the social networking thing going on, and such, so I think it’s sort of a natural evolution of our conference—the challenge is, how do we take a big venue and make it a whole lot smaller? Our job is to create areas or venues where people can come together, and basically reduce a 35,000-person conference down to a few hundred.
How are you making sure that these areas won’t be perceived simply as extensions of booths?
In some ways, they are extensions of vendor booths, because they will include space for companies to bring their information in, but the will also include space for others to bring information in. And the context is meant to be a mixture of things, so that people can read a white paper or see a poster presentation of sorts, and then walk over to a vendor and ask them how their work matches that.