This is, I think, my final piece sharing my thoughts about the HIMSS 2019 Conference. I had wanted to report and reflect on the value of this conference, attended by some 43,000 individuals engaged in one way or another in healthcare delivery and improvement.
I cannot answer that “value: question yet, at least not fully. Here’s why.
I have searched for two pieces of information:(1) the costs incurred by HIMSS in running this mammoth conference; and (2) the percentage of the HIMSS’ budget that is provided by the net proceeds of the conference. I cannot find these data for free online as of now, and the conference personnel to whom I have outreached have indicated that the conference costs have not been finalized.
Why do these pieces of information matter? For starters, the conference had to be hugely expensive. In a world of scarce resources, we need to ask whether those costs are justified. And, we need to consider then the value of the event (with all its sub parts including a myriad of social gatherings sponsored by HIMSS and others run independent of HIMSS but happening during the conference).
Then, we need to consider the overall value of the monies to HIMSS and the work that HIMSS does day in and day out. I can’t address those important questions and if and when I can, I will write an article about it.
So, that leaves me to consider the value of large conferences in general and this conference in particular in other ways. I was struck by the five takeaways offered by Elsevier’s Clinical Solutions President, Dr. John Danaher. These were sent to me post-conference via email from their external PR team. Assuming Dr. Danaher wrote or at least read these, here they are (without the accompanying explanatory blurbs):
1. PROPER DATA APPLICATIONS ARE CRUCIAL;
2. AI HAS UNLIMITED POTENTIAL; COLLABORATION IS KEY;
3. ACCESS IS IMPERATIVE;
4. BLOCKCHAIN WILL GET A CHANCE; and
5. PATIENT ENGAGEMENT IS CRITICAL FOR PRECISION MEDICINE.
Now, I do not mean to be harsh here but aren’t these take-aways that could have been generated (and have been generated) by folks who never attended HIMSS? Indeed, these are the kind of generalities that often appear in newspapers, articles and radio shows. These could have been written before the conference, just by looking at the offerings. These are not valuable conference takeaways or if they are, then they challenge the conference’s ability to share novel and new approaches and innovations that are literally and figuratively life changing.
I’m sorry but these five takeaways from Elsevier are pabulum. To be fair, I mentioned some of them in my first article from the conference.
So, what takeaways are there from this HIMSS conference and other enormous conferences? I think there are two key values and they are noteworthy and commendable. First, there is enormous value in networking, seeing old acquaintances and meeting new professionals in one’s field. There is value, carefully considered, having different stakeholders in the world of healthcare cross-pollinating and socializing: private business, educators; governments; media. Email and phone calls are valuable but there is nothing like seeing and talking to someone live, engaging with them over a meal or a drink.
Second, there is remarkable value in seeing the small companies no one has ever heard of (whether located here in the US or abroad) pushing the envelope and developing ideas some folks never imagined could become reality. These are companies that but for a conference cannot get their innovations onto a larger screen. Large companies like Elsevier can share developments in a myriad of ways given their reach and their budgets.
At the end of the day, at least from my perspective, these conferences are not for takeaways that can be garnered by reading au courant articles in the field. Sure, it is nice to be reminded that patients matter and that Blockchain will see the light of day and that AI has transformative potential and that we need to be transparent and work together. But, we don’t need a massive conference for that. If these are the key takeaways, then we need to rethink the conference in its totality.
Instead, let’s reflect on the HIMSS’ conference potential to connect people to each other and to their work. Let’s consider how the conference shows us innovations we never would or could have seen before. Let’s have a conference where we push the ideas with which we deal day-to-day to their limits to explore the future with thought, reflection and wisdom.
I have one more takeaway that I mentioned in an earlier article but it is an exemplar of why these conferences matter. Dr. Toby Cosgrove remarked (remembering he was a surgeon long before he ran the Cleveland Clinic, which he did with aplomb): Every one of us is pre-op. I can’t get that out of my head. It is an expression that we can all keep in our heads. Sure, someday, surgery will be different and less invasive.
But, the point is that all humans will, at one point or another, need healthcare. The message is clear: create a healthcare system where each of us is a patient with a quality, equitable and efficient outcome. The focus here is on each of us – every single one of the 43,000 attendees and their families and children and friends and colleagues. That’s the healthcare system we want and need.
Many many moons ago, when I started out as a college president, I asked faculty and staff if they would send their own children or family to the college where they were employed. And, if the answer was no or only a partial yes, then it was time to turn the institution into a place one’s own children could and should attend.
That’s a lesson from HIMSS. And a valuable one.
Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.