Going to HIMSS20: Perspectives from a long-time attendee

February 27, 2020

At the beginning of March, the usual masses of healthcare providers, payers, vendors, government employees, trade press and others will descend into Orlando for yet another HIMSS Conference.  First time attendees (or even repeat attendees) can get overwhelmed and end up not taking full advantage of what HIMSS has to offer, not only the vendor exhibits and the education sessions, but especially the amazing networking opportunities.

Frankly, most veteran HIMSS attendees tell me that the networking is their main reason for going to the Conference.   The networking opportunities are great but HIMSS overall is an immersive experience that can be sampled in many ways.  I have been going to HIMSS for 15 years now, playing various roles as a Federal government executive, vendor, speaker, and HIMSS Committee representative.  Based on my experiences, I want to offer a few perspectives to help you with your HIMSS20 experience.

  1. To maximize your time at HIMSS most efficiently, its best to do some upfront research but be flexible. A lot of serendipity happens there so don’t get too boxed in with back-to-back commitments.  What do you want to see, what do you want to learn, and who do you want to meet up with.  Thinking about the post-conference follow up actions is also important.  That part often gets minimized, caught between the scramble to get ready for HIMSS, the frenzy of the conference itself, and the post-conference burnout.
  2. For those who have attended before, think about what you can do this time to make it more beneficial to both you and your organization. HIMSS can’t really be measured by traditional ROI but there are many other ways to maximize value.  For example, if you have staff attending, what can they accomplish at HIMSS to help support your organization?  Are there specific people or companies to connect with, education sessions that provide information to bring back?    For example, HIMSS has done a good job in recent years to help members better understand Blockchain, FHIR, and AI.
  3. Its easy to over stress at HIMSS and become sick afterward. Long days that start before dawn and endless evenings and nights take their toll.   I have seen serious burnout happen to many of my colleagues over the years.  Try to maintain at least some semblance of balance.  Recognize that you will do a lot of walking and standing, so wear comfortable shoes.
  4. Check out the major themes and technologies being promoted not only by the large vendors but the smaller vendors as well. The large vendors often make big announcements and issue press releases, but you can find some very interesting innovative displays by companies that aren’t widely recognized.   Often these demos are located away from the more expensive real estate that the big companies claim.  For example, NewWave, a company I consult with, will have some interesting demos highlighting the work they have done with FHIR at CMS.
  5. Check out events sponsored by HIMSS, including the various get togethers and other ways to network or get educated. The showcases and highlighted themes are usually very informative.
  6. Perhaps the best part of HIMSS is the ability to meet and/or network even at the cost of missing sessions or looking at the exhibits. HIMSS provides a great venue to connect with current customers or possible future ones in a less formal setting, engage with current partners and others to exchange information, form alliances etc.  Its also an opportunity to catch up with people from your own company or organization who you haven’t been able to connect with either because of geographical limitations or lack of time.  Vendor sponsored events are another good way to network and get free food and drink.  These can be enjoyable and offer great opportunities for those who want to re-live their college drinking experiences.
  7. Federal employees
    1. Federal employees are a small part of the HIMSS attendees but HIMSS offers many Federal-focused exhibits and sessions, even though HIMSS tends to draw more heavily from the provider sector. Federal political leadership usually delivers one or more of the keynote speeches.  It’s also a great place to reconnect with former Federal colleagues, some dressed up in various vendor garb.
    2. HIMSS provides an excellent chance for Feds to see the latest technologies promoted by the vendors and learn more about these technologies in some of the educational sessions. For example, many vendors have exhibited on population health tools that they are selling and expect to see more 5G network demos this year as well AI, Blockchain, and other new technologies that were becoming more widespread last year.
    3. Know that the vendor community has been eying you for months, even years and will be descending upon you like flies to honey. The big players especially will want to schedule you for a booth tour and to do some meet and greets.  Be wary and selective.  Recognize that many are just checking a box and don’t really have anything of value to provide you.   Stay away from specific invites to single vendor social events.  Use the ethics card if necessary, to avoid potential conflicts and vendors you don’t want to talk to.  On the other hand, HIMSS is an opportunity to go deeper on some technologies and compare vendor capabilities.
  8. Vendors
    1. Don’t abuse your customers. Be respectful of their time and make any time with you worth their while, not just a sales pitch.  Try not to hover around them when they are eating, sitting somewhere, or going to the restroom.  I experienced vendor encroachment in spades when I was in the Federal government and some colleagues chose not to attend HIMSS because of their discomfort with vendor creep (or creaps).  Especially be respectful after they give a presentation and try to escape from the stage.
    2. Look at both your booth and your competitors’ booths. Have you clearly differentiated your value proposition?  Look at your own booth from the eyes of a customer, competitor, or partner.   Is it easy to clearly identify what you want to be known by or your key differentiators?  Does your brand stand out, even on a crowded exhibit floor?
    3. Recognize that the average time that most attendees spend at a booth is less than two minutes. Most are grazing, both figuratively and literally.  Also be aware of those who can be major time synchs but offer little value in return.
    4. Have a strategy before HIMSS on how it can further your business development priorities and various relationships.

Most of all enjoy your time at HIMSS.  It can be a great experience.  Keep your expectations measured and have fun!  See you there.

Tony Trenkle

Tony Trenkle

Subject Matter Expert - Former CIO for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

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