HIMSS: A Vendor’s Perspective
It’s interesting to read the reviews of others who endured the combination Iron Man / Survivor / Amazing Race / carnival / musical chairs / walkathon that is called HIMSS. Over 1,000 exhibitors, 31,000 attendees (do those two numbers overlap?), dozens of hotels, a virtual whirling vortex of shuttle buses, limos, taxis, and rental cars. What, no planes with banners overhead?
Of the many who have published articles reviewing HIMSS, each had his/her own way of parodying (is that a word?) the excess, the overkill, the awesome size yet questionable utility of the show. Or in the case of Dr. Alexander, whether it has meaning at all for practitioners in smaller practices. We’ve heard the reviews from bloggers, journalists, a few clinicians, some industry celebrities, a Palooza-event organizer, and even a dignitary or two. Is it more ironic or revealing that an unabashed CEO-cum emcee is more memorable than a Cabinet member’s speech?
So far, everyone’s perspective seems to converge around the notion that it is too large, too broad, too unfocused and too spread out to have much value. That it lacks the innovation or creativity it once touted. That it is most memorable for the after-hours events. These reviewers have commented that food, magicians, games of chance, or even a sports bar is what attracted them into the endless matrix of booths. Are these the criteria by which the event should be judged?
I’d just like to offer a vendor’s perspective for a moment. Not that anyone would really care, but perhaps offering a vendor’s view may help to shed light on why this fertility rite called HIMSS continues on, against any logic worthy of a Harvard Case Study.
First, we vendors pay a fortune to exhibit at these shows. At more than $33/square foot for just the footprint (a small 20 x 20 booth is over $13k), plus between $15,000 and $1,000,000 for the booth construction, the tab is just beginning.
Don’t forget all the rental furniture, phones, and $1,500/day for Internet hookup (can you believe that?). Shipping each booth from storage to the show costs thousands of dollars – the larger ones must run $50,000 or more. Dealing with the crews that do setup and delivery (including the “game” to get priority among the laborers)
Second, there’s the travel costs, living costs, and time away from doing what we do every other day — serve our clients and work hard to create new ones. For those in sales, a trade show is a torture chamber by another name unless there are new business opportunities to pursue or clients to entertain (at night). For “the brass,” it’s pushing the corporate image with the media and “looking for mindshare”.
Whatever. Spending a huge amount of money normally expects a greater return. Love to survey all the vendors to see how many actually get a major ROI in a tangible way.
Third ,there’s the show itself. Attendees have the option to wander wherever they like and even go outside to take a break to relax, play golf, or see an attraction. They can dress how they please, whether they are comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt or prefer something more upscale.
Vendors are locked to their booths in the prescribed uniform. Many have an assigned station or function. And don’t think of leaving it! Taking even a 10-minute break for lunch to inhale something can lead to evil eyes, a recall by cell phone, or a scolding by the Booth Nazis in charge. Somehow, you are told that the booth is always jammed just after you decide you need coffee, a smoke (ugh), or to make a phone call to a customer in need of something back home.
A vendor’s world is the size of the booth and a walking path around it, hoping for someone looking for YOUR product. The clock moves very slowly when traffic is light, when classes are in session, or when it’s sunny and warm outside. It’s agony. The feet and backs ache.
But we are counting down to closing time each day, for whatever event is happening that night. Mostly a place to sit, relax, and talk about something other than product. Enjoy a beverage without guilt. To eat something besides a $20 stale sandwich or tasteless salad from the hall vendors, all graduates of the Cooking with Cardboard academy.
Of course, there is a shuttle bus, a long taxi line, or a long walk to the parking lot to redeem the rental car and some horrendous traffic to get back to the hotel first. Do you dare lay on the bed for a short nap before heading out?
By the time the evening is over, it’s late. Feet are still barking and the head may be hurting. But the booth opens again early next morning. Got to be there for that ONE prospect who could make the whole trip worthwhile, knowing that most wander in for the pen, the chocolate, or the chatchka intended to lure them. And the cycle begins again. It’s a good day if you are 20th or less in the Starbucks line. The caffeine main-line to chase the cobwebs. And the new day begins.
Most vendors don’t know much about what goes on in the other booths. The Booth Nazis like it that way. They want you to think that it’s not about having fun, it’s hard work. We need to make this look like a place of business and that we are serious about our customers and are better than our competitors. And we try.
It’s a pleasure to spend time with those very few who are seriously looking for good information, who recognize the need for a product like ours, but aren’t sure how to choose. Those are the gems we live for, the chance to fight for. And for every 20 ID badges we scan, we know probably only two or three will be serious potential for us. But we live for them. We conduct a painful, all-day vigil for them.
And we keep paying the price and coming back to be there for them. Because if we don’t, our competitors probably will!
Dr. Gregg "1 to 3 Docs" Goes to HIMSS (Part 2)
For an all-around overview of the healthcare tech tools world, HIMSS is perhaps the best remaining venue. But unless some refocus by the HIMSS planning peeps is implemented, it probably isn’t a very good investment of time and dollars for the majority of 1-3 provider practice folks. Other venues, though not as complete, provide a better understanding of the 1-3’ers’ needs.
Right up front, I need to say that I may have a bit of bias when it comes to making such a statement. As the director for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Pediatric Office of the Future exhibit at the AAP’s annual conference (NCE), it is just exactly that hole in the end users’ educational options which we seek to fill. Our exhibit – which is growing by leaps and bounds, I’m happy to say – is designed specifically to supply a hands-on, interactive, educational opportunities, exposure, and functionalities overview.
We try to make it very clear to our sponsors that it is all about the educational value for attendees. Of course, we know vendors sponsor us in order to drive sales, but we ask them to try to keep sales pitches subtle, directing attendees who may be interested in deeper sales or product-specific chats to their company’s primary exhibit hall sales booth or to post-conference follow-up.
From what we’ve seen, and from the responses to the post-conference surveys we’ve received – an extra special thanks here to Dr. Eric Fishman and EHRconsultant who did one of the best – it appears that the 1-3’ers are more than interested in learning more. Indeed, they seem more interested than ever, but they also have some very specific needs, few of which would be met by a junket to HIMSS.
Here are a few quotes from attendees to bolster that assertion:
- “Hands-on experience was the best way to learn the EMR.”
- “Although we have not adopted EMR, it was very helpful to see the advantages and utilization of the EMR.”
- [It enhanced my understanding of HIT by seeing] “different formats for EMR organization – both information entry options and options for how the info entered in the past can be easily accessed and reviewed in a way that supports medical decision making.”
- “It is obvious there are better solutions than the ones we are using.”
- “A small part of a steep learning curve.”
1-3’ers are not slow, resistant to tech, or Luddite. They are just providers who want to provide the best care they can. Their focus is health — the world of medicine. They want the advantages of high tech tools, but don’t have any interest in going back to college to gain a degree in Informatics. There just aren’t many booth or educational session combos at HIMSS which would be of any use for such folks. Most are just too tech-heavy or too tech-specific for 1-3’ers’ needs.
If HIT is as smart as some want us to believe, providers shouldn’t have to pass HITECH 501 just to use an EHR. Indeed, healthcare providers are some of the biggest users of smart phones, but I’ll bet very few docs spent more than twenty or thirty minutes before they were texting, e-mailing, and apping away happily with any new iPhone, Droid, or Pre. And, these “phones” are powerhouses, capable of tons of techno-wizardry. If HIT is so smart, EHR adoption shouldn’t really take so darn much time to learn how to deploy.
So, between a relative dearth of relevant and easily digested content, the costs of attending coupled with the costs of taking premier days away from the office, the snobbish disdain many vendors evidence toward anyone without a massive checking account, and the tremendous amount of time it takes to find “1-3’er value” amidst the mainly big toy shows on the exhibit hall floor, is it any wonder the 1-3’ers are so few and far between at HIMSS?
Top that off with the massive learning hurdle that most EMR/EHR implementations require and the answers to those questions circulating about how to engage the 1-3’ers’ interest in HIMSS, and in EMRs in general, seem to become clearer:
- Hold more of HIMSS, including the exhibit hall stuff and not just the pre-HIMSS stuff, on the weekend (maybe including Friday which is usually more doable than Monday for 1-3’ers) so that it isn’t as financially prohibitive for us grunts.
- Hold some super-friendly-for-super-small-practices seminars. Grunts don’t typically find much use for keynotes highlighting the wondrous things HIMSS has accomplished or panel discussions on NIST and NICE.
- Establish some sort of positive reward system for vendor reps who actually talk with 1-3’ers, not just VCs, reporters, and other vendors.
- Consider a cooperative between HIMSS and any and all medical academies and organizations to help spread the HIT message across more shows, in more towns, at more moments in time. (The Medical Records Institute tried this with their “EMR Road Shows,” but the shows were too small, too few vendors attended, and scope was too narrow to be sufficiently advantageous or enticing.)
- Smarten up HIT and make it smart phone-esque. (I’m still so in awe of how Medicomp’s Quippe has really made a quantum leap along this path.)
Two cents from the 1-3’er trenches…
“Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa