A show the size of HIMSS is all about expectations. If you expect to be overwhelmed by the mammoth exhibit floor and hundreds of sessions, you probably will be. But if you go in with the plan — what issue you’re trying to solve, and which vendors or colleagues might be able to assist with that — it’s a whole different experience, says Steve Lieber, president and CEO of HIMSS. In this interview, he talks about what he expects will be the hottest topics at the event, how attendees can make the most of it, and the tremendous opportunity it offers with some of the most influential leaders in the industry all convened in one location.
Gamble: As the HIMSS Conference & Exhibition has grown from a trade show into the largest health IT meeting in the world, how do you think it has evolved to better suit the needs of attendees?
Lieber: Honestly, one thing that has made it better is that it’s not the primary focus of the organization anymore. We’re able to bring more into it by virtue of some of the other things we’re doing. For example, the international program that’s part of the annual conference now didn’t exist 17 years ago. If we weren’t as active as we are around the world, it really wouldn’t be a very dynamic program. And so the annual conference has grown and improved as a result of the expanded focus of the organization in other areas.
What we’ve done is to try to take what we’ve done in one area and leverage it in other areas, whether it’s a program that’s been created or relationships that have been built. I believe the international activity we started in 2006 has been a significant positive contributor to the US program in the sense that we attract more people from around the world to this conference to see how things operate here. We’re able to bring other speakers in that we might not have known had we not been working globally.
Gamble: Really interesting. I’ve noticed that the conference is broken down into several different sectors. That ability for attendees to choose programs that focus on interoperability or find vendors who are big in the cybersecurity space can go a long way toward helping to meet the specific needs of individual leaders or organization.
Lieber: Very much so, and that’s another example of what I was talking about. As the organization has grown, we’ve developed the capacity to tackle more topics, which in turn helps enrich the entire conference. With offerings like the interoperability showcase, we’re able to expand our focus, expand our engagement, expand the learning opportunities as a result of work that we do on other subjects. As a result, the conference has become — perhaps even more than ever — the place to be if you’re in this space.
During that week, if you want to get anything done in health IT, you have to be at HIMSS, because that’s where almost everyone. Even though it’s a very large group and it’s hard to find people sometimes, it is a whole lot easier to make connections, because everybody is at the same place, at the same time. And so over the years, it has become even more of a ‘must-do’ event. That’s part of what we want to do and why we’ve expanded the focus of the conference, and why we’ve invited other organizations to hold meetings in conjunction with it. The idea is to make it a fairly easy destination for people to come and engage in the business of health IT.
Gamble: To that end, there are people who will say it’s become too big and too hard for them to navigate. Any words of advice on how attendees can make it work for them and specific their needs?
Lieber: The key really is to plan ahead. That’s good advice for anything — if you plan something, it will come off a lot better than if you don’t. This is no different. You want to strategize about what educational programs you want to attend, because we run anywhere from 20 to 25 sessions in every time block. There are huge numbers of choices, and you have to make some decisions. If you don’t think about it ahead of time, it can be overwhelming. And so mapping out your educational plan is my first piece of advice that I give to anyone.
The second is to plot out the parts of the exhibition that you want to see. There are going to be some 1,300 companies on the floor; you can’t visit 1,300 companies in three days, and so you have to plan that out as well. Look at what you’re interested in, what your organization or your practice is looking at in terms of future technology or acquisitions, and plan that.
If you’re coming with several people from your system or practice, dividing and conquering is also a good strategy, because there is just way too much for any one person to cover in its entirety. That planning goes a long way to breaking down what can be an overwhelming experience and turning it into a very manageable one. Because when you really break it down, you can turn this into a relatively small meeting; you find your group, you find the people that are interested in the same things you are, and you start running into people at common sessions, because there’s a pattern to what you’re attending. And so it really is easier to navigate than it might look if you’re just looking at the size and the numbers.
Gamble: And of course there is an app that attendees can use to their advantage.
Lieber: Absolutely. The app is a great way to manage that. It’s a long way from 10 or 15 years ago when you had to create a spreadsheet. And that’s what we’re trying to do — make it easier.
Gamble: What do you think are going to be some of the highlights and biggest topics of discussion at this year’s conference?
Lieber: There are a few things I’m excited about. One is that we expect to have a record number of Congressional staff in attendance. We’re unlikely to have any senior officials from Health and Human Services and the Office of the National Coordinator, simply because of the time it takes for the appointment process and the confirmation process. It’s just too close to the wire.
But we will have several Congressional staffers, because we all know that there is going to be some new direction in terms of federal policy around health insurance and health coverage. How much that actually influences technology, we don’t know yet. But Congress, like other federal agencies, recognizes that this is the place to be to talk to people in the field to understand what’s going on. So I think there will be plenty of opportunities to speak with federal officials. You can take the pulse of Congressional staff and take the pulse of Agency staff and get an idea of where things might be headed.
Another is our cybersecurity command center. This is a critical issue that a lot of leaders are struggled with, and we hope to move along conversations with our expanded cybersecurity offerings. There will also be a lot of talk about population health, in terms of the changes in reimbursement around bundled or value-based care. We’ll have lots of educational programming around those subjects. One thing we do know—and this has both a direct and an indirect impact on the use of technology—is that the way reimbursement is going, it will require the use of technology to better manage care and be able to be more effectively and economically deliver that care, as well as to avoid penalties on readmissions. So technology is becoming more of a critical tool than ever before.
We know that the trend is pointing toward reimbursements that are not increasing, and in some cases, are declining, and that reduces hospitals’ and physician practices’ ability to invest in technology. And so they’re going to have to be smarter about what they buy, and when they buy it. Being able to attend these types of educational programs helps people to think about next steps.
There are a number of sessions focused on best practices and how-to’s, but there are also some that really help people think about what’s next. And that’s where, I think, we all need to be so that we’re anticipating change and preparing for it instead of reacting to it. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our educational programming from that standpoint of helping to get people to that point.
Gamble: Along those lines, you have an interesting lineup of keynote speakers who certainly have experience in being proactive and looking forward.
Lieber: Absolutely. I think it will be particularly fascinating to hear from Ginni Rometty, who is president and CEO of IBM, about the direction that company is taking. If you look at its history, IBM has reinvented itself multiple times going back in the early days of International Business Machines, which was before were computers, then going heavy into mainframe computing, then becoming a leader in PCs, and finally moving into analytics. As a company, they have a smart culture, and that’s been evident over multiple generations as it has successful dealt with changes in the marketplace. It goes right along with the theme of looking ahead and being able to anticipate, and I expect Ginni will help us to think in that direction.
And we have several other notable people on some of the side stages. Dan Rather is going to be with us at a luncheon. Here is someone who has been one of the leading news anchors and broadcasters since I was a kid, and I believe he’ll bring some tremendous insights on how America has changed and how healthcare has changed. And of course we’ll have a few other very influential people in Former House Speaker John Boehner, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary, who should all have some interesting takes on leadership.
So we’ll have a variety of people coming at things from different angles and providing some very thought-provoking insights, and that’s what the keynotes are supposed to do. You don’t necessarily leave the keynote with a list of three things you’re going to implement, but it will help you lift your head up for a little while and look out farther to the horizon — and we need that push, because we barely look up beyond our screen nowadays. It’s an opportunity for us to stop, take a breath, look out, and think ahead.
Gamble: Well, it sounds like HIMSS has quite an event planned. Thanks so much for your time, and I look forward to seeing you in Orlando!
Lieber: Thank you, Kate.