As healthcare technology leaders from around the country prepare to descend on New Orleans for the annual Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference next month, it is fitting that several sessions will deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Presentations will range from lessons learned by Gulf Coast health officials to the safety of medical records. One will showcase the HIMSS Katrina Phoenix Project, a collaborative effort focused on helping flooded paper-based physician practices move to electronic health record systems donated by hardware and software vendors.
"I think it is appropriate for us to highlight the impact health information technology can have on taking care of people," says Stephen Lieber, HIMSS CEO and president.
The regional focus isn't the only new wrinkle for HIMSS07, Lieber notes. There's a fresh emphasis on business information systems as well, with a symposium on the topic Sunday and sessions sprinkled throughout the week.
"In the past, HIMSS has largely been about clinical information systems, in part because they were far less established than business systems," he explains. "But we have come to recognize that you can't just focus on one. Tying clinical and business applications together is important."
To that end, HIMSS is also collaborating with the Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management on a new one-day pre-conference symposium on healthcare supply chain technology. Sessions will focus on the supply chain process and the information systems that support it.
"We want to bring together the entire community that handles information related to the patient," Lieber says, so this symposium may draw a new audience to the conference.
When asked how CIOs can best take advantage of the conference, Lieber sums it up with one word: planning.
"If you just show up, you are going to be overwhelmed," he says. "There are over 200 educational programs, 900 exhibitors and 25,000 people milling around. You have to think about how you're going to approach it."
He says many CIOs and their staff members approach the conference as a team. They identify what they want to accomplish both in educational sessions and in exhibits. The schedule is set up so there isn't much overlap between the two. CIOs have to look at their capital plans and which vendors are in that space, he notes. In four days, they could hit all the major players and the minor ones as well, whether it's having a first conversation or narrowing down a choice to two vendors, or just connecting with existing vendors. "Maintaining that relationship means talking with leaders of vendor partners about new things coming down the pipeline," Lieber says. "Those are things you need to know as a CIO."
One popular feature returning from last year is the Interoperability Showcase. Last year, more than 700 attendees created a health record and tracked it as it moved from one vendor's application to another. "It's a significant feature of the conference, because this is an issue that is on the tip of every tongue these days," Lieber says.
The timing of Katrina put pressure on HIMSS staff and convention planners in New Orleans to make sure the recovery would happen in time for HIMSS07.
"Six weeks after the hurricane we went down to see firsthand," Lieber recalls. "We had to decide what to do and couldn't postpone the decision." But even then, he was confident the city was going to be well prepared by February 2007. The convention center and the hotels nearby were largely unaffected. HIMSS has worked closely with the hotels, airlines, city government and visitors bureau to make sure things go smoothly in February. "We've followed up on details you don't normally have to worry about," he says.
HIMSS expects to lease 10 percent more exhibit space than it did last year in San Diego. Lieber says it was too early to make predictions about attendance. But in late November it was running 15 percent ahead of the same time last year, he says, adding, "I'm encouraged by what I see."
David Raths is a freelance writer based in Narberth, Pa.
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