Are you heading to HIMSS in Chicago? Masks off! Forget your vaccine cards and QR code apps. Leave behind your COVID rapid-testing kits; health-sector conferences are back in full force! Expect a (somewhat) carefree HIMSS reboot that returns attendance to pre-COVID levels.
But let’s not forget that three years ago – just as then-President Trump was announced as the HIMSS keynote – COVID ripped across the world. In 2020, at the 12th hour, HIMSS decided to cancel the Davos of health information and digital health for the first time in more than half a century. In the days preceding the decision, many of us were on pins and needles waiting for the shoe to drop finally – and it did after mega exhibitors pulled out to protect their staff and Florida shut down to the outside world.
How Three Years Changed Mindsets or Not?
Much has changed in those three years. The former president has been indicted; COVID has supposedly been tamed; big exhibitors with 40 by 40 space return to the rightful places at Chicago’s McCormick Convention Center; 30,000 people will be running to educational and continuing education sessions and networking events and, most importantly, conversations on how the health ecosystem will address the unfulfilled potential of digital health and aggregated intelligence (AI) and protect our precious, personal health data with cybersecurity technologies will be the talk of the hallways.
Salute to HIMSS Staff – The Backbone of a Great Conference
Behind the scenes, HIMSS staff work diligently to address the needs of this ever-growing professional community. While most people rightfully run from speaker sessions throughout the day, far fewer realize that the program is mainly built through membership participation. HIMSS is more like a peer-review medical conference than a for-profit entity. Countless abstracts are submitted for review by volunteer working groups, graded and debated and those accepted to make it into the program.
Mentors are assigned to the speakers to check in on their progress and content development. Little is left to chance and “winged on stage.” The HIMSS staff are considering all the little details, including assigning program committee members to introduce speaker sessions – highlighting the 300+ speakers and their content. If the Jackson Browne hit song “Stay” salutes the roadies that put together and pull down his road-tour stage, HIMSS staff deserve a song commemorating their exceptional work.
HIMSS differs from the many key conferences around health innovation – it’s geared to the grass tops, chief information, strategy and technology officers, and the grassroots experts in digital health information where the rubber meets the road in operations and transformation. You will find folks from the Federal government who can advance policies that improve access to information and its security, along with hard-working staff from agencies tasked with getting the job done.
Embrace the Good – Put Aside Your Darts
People love throwing darts at industry gatherings that have made it, and HIMSS takes its fair share of pundit swipes. That said, in August 2021 in Las Vegas, HIMSS pioneered the way back to industry conferences by putting in place protocols requiring a COVID inoculation confirmation, a negative COVID task and masks. If it came late to the public health shut-down party in 2020, it more than made amends one year later, courageously paving the way for the community to reunite! Other groups, such as CNS Summit, built on that model and added even more confidence-generating approaches to unite the community.
If, in 2019, HIMSS added patient engagement and experience to its conference theme, this year’s theme hints at something that can make our innovations workable and meaningful – collaboration. We don’t lack good ideas – we lack encouragement and incentives to work well together and operationalize! As much as we invent new ways to apply information, we fear change and prefer to stick with the known – even if it’s suboptimal patient care.
Physicians claim that the time spent on “managing information systems” or depending on those systems for answers is burning them out and keeping them from their primary mission – caring for people seeking solutions. If so, then information technology is not meeting its mission –fixing one thing and breaking the ties between physician and patient.
Conversation Can Lead to Solutions
While the hundreds of sessions at HIMSS will offer new knowledge, don’t forget to spend time in the hallways – meeting people, sharing ideas (and problems) and “keeping it real.” The magic of technology isn’t the organization of massive amounts of data – it’s making more time to be us and fulfill our life missions. In health, that is connecting healers with those people seeking to be healed.
See you in the Windy City of Chicago. I will be masked! My COVID shots – inoculations and booster are up-to-date, and I’ll test each day. When it comes to people’s health – public health – we can all make an extra effort. I come for the people, conversations and belief that in speaking with each other, we will continually piece together puzzle pieces of the divided health information ecosystem.