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Time Capsule: HIMSS10: Party Like It’s 1999

January 24, 2014 Time Capsule No Comments

I wrote weekly editorials for a boutique industry newsletter for several years, anxious for both audience and income. I learned a lot about coming up with ideas for the weekly grind, trying to be simultaneously opinionated and entertaining in a few hundred words, and not sleeping much because I was working all the time. They’re fun to read as a look back at what was important then (and often still important now).

I wrote this piece in March 2010.

HIMSS10: Party Like It’s 1999
By Mr. HIStalk

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Healthcare is different, everybody says, Well, it sure is when it comes to throwing the excessive bacchanal that is the HIMSS annual conference.

Most citizens are shell-shocked from economic devastation. Most industries are reeling. But at HIMSS, it was 1999 all over again.

Sprawling exhibitor booths are burning electricity like a third-world country! Bring on the big-name entertainment! (OK, I admit that I hadn’t heard of Colbie Caillat and singing in a building full of fish tanks is new to me, but her Grammy Award seemed to get people’s attention). Cocktail hour in the exhibit hall are just what stressed hospital executives need to make informed, responsible IT decisions!

The most common phrase I heard in the exhibit hall other than Meaningful Use was Ruth’s Chris.

It was a Las Vegas time warp in Atlanta. Everybody slept in expensive hotel rooms and wore pricy clothes and screwed around with party schedules on expensive smart phones and fretted over dinner reservations and wine lists at expensive restaurants. The neon and booth babes were out in force, everybody loaded up on overpriced Starbuck’s coffee, and hired cars and limos lined up to transport captains of the HIT industry and their minions to and from the convention center.

In the back of my mind, though, was my hospital’s ED. I was thinking of the people patiently waiting there, those using it as their primary care provider because they can’t afford insurance. If I randomly chose one of those patients and took them to HIMSS, what would they think of the free-wheeling technology funfest?

I worry that hospital executives have decided that they are far superior in every way to the average patient they supposedly serve. They have more education, make more money, and enjoy life benefits that the randomly chosen ED patient cannot comprehend. When they travel, they travel in style, and thus supposedly struggling community hospitals will reimburse executives for $250 hotel rooms. And when they go to HIMSS, self-sacrifice is hard to find. In fact, so is any mention of real, live patients, many of whom would probably cause the suit-wearing crowd to physically recoil because they don’t look or act like them.

The other irony is that the key element of discussion, the topic that packed the conference rooms, was getting hands on taxpayer money. All those highly paid and highly expense accounted people were getting together to talk about hitting those economically shell-shocked people and companies a little harder in the pocketbook, making the choice on their behalf that their personal income would be better used to fund EMRs through higher taxes.

Maybe the local TV stations should send video reporters to conferences like HIMSS, just to show the folks back home who make it all possible how their healthcare and tax dollars are being spent.

I could be naïve. Maybe the HIMSS spectacle is so over the top that everybody gets the irony. In fact, I bet they were discussing it at Ruth’s Chris.

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