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RSNA on Tuesday: A more somber conference?

December 1, 2009
by Mark Hagland
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I’m always careful to check my perceptions against those of others, especially whenever those perceptions involve inherently subjective questions like tone and atmosphere. This year, RSNA seems more somber, less vivacious (if a radiology conference can ever be said to be “vivacious”) than in past years. But I am finding others asking me about the tone of RSNA this year, or commenting directly.

As soon as I shook hands with a vendor CEO this morning, someone I know well, she said, “Have you noticed how the foot traffic is really down this year?” I said I had. And just now, sitting down for a conversation with Joe Marion, the well-known, Waukesha, Wis.-based consultant who specializes in diagnostic imaging IT issues and who is a many-years veteran of RSNA (not to mention one of our bloggers here at Healthcare Informatics), all these impressions were confirmed. “The mood definitely is more somber,” Joe told me a little while ago. “And you can really see how far down the foot traffic is on the exhibit floors, especially today [Tuesday] compared to yesterday. It’s quite perceptible.”

Multiple vendors have complained to me about the problem. Of course, it comes as little surprise, given the poor economy. Still, RSNA had until recently been one of those healthcare conferences that seemed immune to the ups and downs of the economy. Not only has radiology remained one of the highest-paid medical specialties; until last year, PACS and RIS system sales had been booming for at least a decade and a half, fueled both by first-time implementations and by replacement implementations industry-wide, not only in the U.S., but globally across healthcare. What’s more, the radiologists (and vendors) who come to Chicago’s

McCormick Place

every year hail from every corner of the globe. (Indeed, one of the things I’ve always loved, as a language person, is hearing a smorgasbord of languages spoken every year here at RSNA—German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, the Scandinavian languages, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian languages, and so on, in the corridors and on the exhibit floor, here at McCormick Place).

But the swan dive of the U.S. and indeed global economy seems to have impacted even this robust convention, still the world’s largest annual healthcare meeting. And the potential for U.S. healthcare reform and reimbursement reform to hit diagnostic imaging very hard, uniquely so compared to procedures in other specialties—is very great. As Joe Marion put it just now, the impact of reimbursement changes being suggested in Congress could be “devastating” to the imaging industry.

Not surprisingly, RSNA would be affected. Could some vendors end up pulling out of RSNA as exhibitors, as has been happening lately with a few of the biggest vendors, in regard to HIMSS? And if, so, could a domino effect take place? Hopefully, no such thing will come to pass. But what is clear is that RSNA, like every other big healthcare conference, appears to be feeling a chill of late, and that chill is definitely not coming just from the cold winds blowing off Lake Michigan.

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