Field Notes from a First-Time HIMSS Attendee

In March, I joined a group of health care professionals in Las Vegas for the annual meetup of an organization some of you may have heard of: the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference is one of the largest—if not largest—health care information and technology (health IT) events in the world.

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It has been a few weeks, but as a first-time attendee, being a part of HIMSS made a lasting impression as I took a deep dive into the world of health IT. It was a hard not to get distracted by the shiny, new, and attractive technologies at vendor booths while also trying to consume an endless buffet of educational sessions.

Here are some of my takeaways—I’m hopeful that reading these may help other first-time attendees to maximize their experiences, not just for this conference, but also other large industry conferences.

1. Research and coordinate with other attendees ahead of time.

A few weeks in advance, take time to scan the agenda and attendee list. You might be surprised by which companies are represented.

At HIMSS, I was specifically interested in both innovation and digital health programs from other provider organizations. It is great to connect with individuals from other academic medical centers and incubators in this space, especially those with whom you may have only previously connected via email or tweets

Speaking of tweets, Twitter is a great platform to find out what are the must-attend sessions. I found some fascinating sessions on blockchain technology and running pilots at a large institution purely from following notable health IT-related accounts.


 

While you’re here, some great accounts to follow:

@HIMSS
The official HIMSS Twitter handle, showcasing interesting sessions and providing timely announcements.

@BWHiHub, @landmaad
A bit self-promoting, but you should follow our account and our Chief Information Officer, Adam Landman, MD.

@RasuShrestha
Chief Innovation Officer at UPMC Enterprise + a health IT and innovation leader on Twitter.

@chrissyfarr
Health reporter for CNBC.com and tweets interesting news scoops.

@ddiamond
POLITICO Pulse writer, the morning briefing on health care politics and policy.

@HealthITNews
Provides a curated list of health IT-related news stories.

 

Even more, rely on colleagues within your organization and social network to share their strategies, divide-and-conquer simultaneous sessions of interest, and compare notes after a long day. Send out some calendar invites to remind not just your colleagues, but also to keep yourself on schedule as the conference will be full of distractions.

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2. Remember that the best conversations do not happen on the main conference floor.

Other than the 300+ educational sessions, HIMSS also had 415 sessions scheduled in the vendor booths, which were not listed on the official agenda. Essentially, numerous conferences were taking place within the larger conference venue. This is another opportunity to listen to some key thought leaders early, and to be able to ask questions in a more intimate setting.

Do not underestimate networking happy hours—you never know who will show up. I met the Chief Innovation Officer at another large academic medical center and was pleasantly surprised they knew who I was! These events are the ultimate melting pot of connections and ideas. And hopefully the interactions and conversations that happen in Vegas will continue beyond Vegas.

Do some scouting or just find out when special networking events are occurring. Again, Twitter and your social network are great resources—so make sure to keep your batteries charged.

3. Attend the keynotes, but accept that you physically can’t attend everything and meet everyone.

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I like to be comprehensive and thorough, which in this case meant wanting to attend every session and visit all the vendors. Even before I touched down in Vegas, I was bombarded with emails and even phone calls from vendors eager to schedule meeting times to stop by their booths. I quickly learned that I would need to be selective.

Be sure to attend the keynotes. At HIMSS, it was fascinating to hear from Eric Schmidt, former Executive Chairman of Google, on his vision for health care in the cloud; as well as from Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) on the new MyHealthEData initiative to give patients more control over their health information. Plus, being able to refer to the keynote is a great topic starter to break the ice with other attendees.

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4. Take note of trends, but don’t ignore your inner critic.

Without a doubt, blockchain and artificial intelligence in health care were the “it” items of the week. The educational sessions on these topics were at capacity. But, I think there’s still a lot of hype around these two areas and it will be interesting to follow up even a year from now to understand how much progress actually is being made.

I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of voice in health care. The recent trend has been emphasizing so much on voice-enabled technology such as Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri. Large enterprises such as IBM, Nuance, Google have marketed so much around voice in health care, yet when I strolled around the main show floor and the innovation zone at HIMSS, there was truly only one company that emphasized voice.

5. Have fun and bring comfortable shoes.

Don’t overpack your week scheduled meetings and events. Give yourself some space to run into interesting people or just explore the venue halls. You should take time to recharge and relax in between all the exciting and attention-grabbing sessions. Plus, you never know what (or who) you may find.

While we’re talking about walking, make sure to bring comfortable shoes. Make sure you look professional, yet feel comfortable.

HIMSS will be exhausting, but exciting. It’s a glimpse into the future of health IT and a great opportunity to be surrounded by intelligent and passionate individuals. I look forward to what’s next and the ideas that will shape this industry.


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Chen Cao, MPH
Innovation Analyst