Here’s an interesting fact: while fewer staff members from vendor companies were present at HIMSS this year—a slight fall-off no doubt attributable to the economic downturn—slightly more healthcare IT executives were in attendance. As HIMSS president and CEO H. Stephen Lieber told me on Wednesday, he and his colleagues expect HIMSS2010 total attendance to come to “just under 28,000,” compared to 27,400 for HIMSS2009. Meanwhile, 1,000 fewer “exhibitor bodies” showed up, but that shortfall was more than offset by an 8 percent increase in “professional attendees,” with a final number expected to top 14,000, the largest number of professional attendees to date.
We all know that many vendors are still reeling from the recession (now officially “economic downturn”) of 2008-2009, and many have had to cut back on the size of their troop strength present at the HIMSS Conference. But the increase in professional attendees this year to me reflects an understanding on the part of patient care organization leaders of the importance of policy developments on our industry. The meaningful use-related sessions were very well-attended, and the level of engagement of attendees was as high as I’ve ever seen it.
Clearly, when $19.1 billion is at stake, along with the future of healthcare IT, people are paying attention, as well they should. As I stated in my previous post, I sincerely hope that CIOs and other healthcare IT and other leaders are moving forward based under the banner of performance improvement, and not merely responding to the financial carrots (soon to be followed by financial sticks) being offered by the federal government under ARRA-HITECH. In any case, the combination of money stakes, strong policy shift, and competition among patient care organizations in markets nationwide is spurring the kind of intensive development in core clinical and other information technologies that has long been called for in healthcare.
And all of this is, not surprisingly, good for the HIMSS organization itself. As Steve Lieber told me, “We knew when we put this year’s program together that meaningful use would be the biggest issue for 2010. But we’re still covering a variety of topics. So you do have heavy emphasis on the current issue of the day. Meaningful use is a catchy term right now,” he said. “I think it will be a shorthand for what we talk about in the future. Technology was once about having technology; now its become what you do with it. This year, we’re talking about what you need to do and be thinking about and planning, and next year, we’ll be talking much more about results, problems, barriers” involved in moving forward.
One thing I’ve always found fascinating about the HIMSS Conference is the degree to which having a single dominant industry conference can help focus our industry at times of intense change. There have been years when the HIMSS Conference reflected the diffuse focus of healthcare IT, and others when everything seemed to be moving in a single direction. This year was certainly an example of the latter; and my sense is that the next several years will be more like this one.
Ultimately, that intensity of focus will be one more element moving healthcare IT forward, I believe. And it will certainly be interesting to see what the discussions are like at HIMSS2011 in Orlando, and HIMSS2012, in Las Vegas. Stay tuned, and stay engaged!