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HIMSS10: Party Like It’s 1999

March 15, 2010 News 20 Comments

By Mr. HIStalk

Inside Healthcare Computing has graciously agreed to make this editorial available from its newsletter.

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! Cocktail hour in the exhibit hall is 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.

This editorial is copyright-protected by Algonquin Professional Publishing, LLC., publishers of Inside Healthcare Computing. Please do not copy, forward, or reproduce this material without prior permission. To obtain permission or for more information about Inside Healthcare Computing’s reprint policy, please contact the Customer Service Department at 877-690-1871. Mr. HIStalk’s editorials appear in the subscribers-only version of Inside Healthcare Computing’s E-News Update.

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Currently there are "20 comments" on this Article:

  1. Whether or not we like it, a Capitalistic Society is driven by money. And healthcare IT is no different. I do believe that many of the vendors give back to society in many ways, using their profits to do things that we could not do otherwise if they weren’t chasing the almighty dollar. And I believe that it is unlikely we would have the advances in medicine and technology if there weren’t some type of financial reward involved.

    I agree that sometimes it is a bit over the top, but if you look at how much we pay NFL football players… Well, don’t get me started.

  2. I am not sure where this guy was, but I along with many others were not it the shiny limo but riding MARTA out of town to the La Quinta at $60/night. Most of us were to tired to drink very much without passing out from exhaustion. I actually lost 2 lbs.

    Many of the people I meet were there to learn about new trends and meet our fellow twitter or health blogging buddies. We wanted to tell people about our new products and services. We were engaging with everyone we sat next to on the bus or at breakfast. We wanted to talk health care IT

    I as many at the show represent a small company that is building a system to connect Personal Health Information such as HealthVault to smartphones. We are not chasing government grant monies, we are not big enough to hire grant writers.

    Maybe I am the naive one. I just hope not.


  3. At the risk of sounding a bit more prim and proper than I ever could be, HEAR, HEAR – this junk is why we stopped going to this thing – in the real world you have to spend your own money!

    Now, back to getting our hands on all that free tax money…

  4. I beg to disagree. I interface with the C-Suite in community hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky on a regular basis as I’m responsible for the community hospital space in these states. Even before the market crashed I have found the executives in these hospitals to be very concerned about patient safety and looking for alternatives to keep their employees on the payroll rather than lay them off. HIMSS does have the glitz and glamour sheen and perhaps I’m a little naive…but I do believe most people ARE well intentioned and your editorial a little jaded.

  5. I am saddened that patient safety was not a topic of discussion.
    Instead, “The other irony is that the key element of discussion, the topic that packed the conference rooms, was getting hands on taxpayer money.” Can anyone imagine why such an honourable industry with such upstanding vendors stoop to this?

    What do they want to do with taxpayer money?

  6. I paid to get myself down there, even the registration fee. I got a government rate at a hotel off the beaten track. I did get to Ruth’s though (my boss bought me dinner there.) I feel your pain and the country’s pain at asking for reform and getting a dog and pony show, but those systems put people to work and create a lot of commerce. Granted, it ain’t patient care but no one in the system really thinks of the patient.
    When being healthy produces a profit, we’ll all be a lot healthier. Until then, citizens and patients are really nothing but consumers and when they can no longer consume they lose their purpose and power.

  7. Suzy,
    Phillips VisICU talked about patient safety. They claim to have an algorithm in their system that decreases ICU patient mortality by 30% and LOS by 25%. They wouldn’t share it or describe it though since saving lives and money is proprietary.
    It leaves me with mixed feelings. Shouldn’t we all be looking for ways to save lives and money and share to reach best practice?
    Call me a socialist (but I like Medicare and Socialist Security and think the ideas have other applications in health care as well.)

  8. What exactly was the point of this editorial again besides trying to mention something about ‘irony?’

  9. Perhaps the collective hubris was over the top, but some of us were enjoying some very real conversations by IT decision-makers who are finally feeling the pressure to actually get physicians to document electronically. Haven’t seen buzz like that at HIMSS in the last 5 years. Even the ants in my hotel room were excited.

  10. I liked the Encore booth. It was at a real pub. Every night. Free beer, wine and pub grub. I saw more CIO’s there than at Ruth’s Chris.

  11. Here’s a dark thought….this is a bit like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American elite have not had to make made any sacrifice. Perhaps its the same here; despite the recession and unemployment of 10% or more, the US (healthcare) elite have not really felt the devastation and despair like the blue collar populaiton has?

  12. Just remember…you threw a party too. With the help of sponsors!!

    [From Mr. HIStalk] Irony intentional! I like to use those editorials to get readers to think. You did!

  13. The HC industry is no morally better than any other industry where money flows freely. Vendors and HIStalk all need cash to survive. Some do it more quietly than others, and some are so obvious with the concerts, booze, dinners, rides, and specials for the buyer, that it would raise SEC eyebrows if they knew about it. If the HC leadership buys products or services based on food consumption or booze intake at pubs, no wonder why we need the governement to tell the industry how to perform and act.

    Hasn’t changed in 28 years that I have been in the business, and probably won’t change anytime soon.

  14. It is interesting how so many view healthcare in the US. It is a business! Vendor are running businesses. The “Not for profit” IRS status is what confuses people. Just because you don’t have stockholder doesn’t mean there is no profit.

    Compared to many show in different industries that I have been to. HIMSS did a great job. HIMSS is also running a business.


  15. The healthcare industry in the US has always been about money. You can look in the history books and see why the AMA started… degree’d dr.’s wanted to get rid of their competitors (apprentices, midwives and such who were administering healthcare just as effectively) and used a huge lobby approach to Congress. This is not capitalism based on profit for value… it is greed… and greed without human values. These are not people you want responsible for the health of citizens. So this has been a flawed market all along… and mortally unstable.

    I thought HIMSS was just a confirmation of this reality. Certain vendors that have been profitizing from this system along with their hospital c-level and provider pals walked around with a superiority attitude as usual. This won’t stop anytime soon (or ever).

    So the US govt. is finally going after healthcare. Oh snap. Citizens in a civilized society deserve care without them or the goverment going broke as they fill the pockets of the greedy. Duh.

    The good news is that we, as technologists, now have a real calling for real contributions. You now won’t go broke offering great products to deaf ears. A better chance anyway. The reforms, incentives, policy penalties etc. are now contributing to the necessary market forces for innovation and entrepreneurship.

    The ones who should make the big profits are YOU, the real innovators who create real value.

    It’s a wonderful and exciting time! I’ll piss in the other punchbowl. But the innovation/entrepreneurial punchbowl? I spike it!

  16. The money people SPENT on entertainment went to pay the salaries and for goods of other people in other industries. Though the money was spent in ways the author does not like, it does not discount that it went to other people. If they did not spend that money, waiters, waitresses, and others would not have cash to spend themselves.

    I am all for outrage if they took all the cash and burned it, or horded the cash not spending a dime.

    One person’s waste is another person’s income.

  17. HIMSS in many ways reminds me of the opening of the summer Olympics in China. It is a spectacle intended for the largest vendors to show their power and might with over the top booths, expansive exhibit floor square footage, extravagant entertainment – all designed to not only posture against their largest competitors – but to make clear to attendees that the only companies worth considering are large and powerful.

    Obviously it works. There aren’t too many C-suite hospital execs who will turn down a $200 dinner or free limos with fear that their IT decisions are now adulterated. The ones that do should be applauded. Yes, there are many who attend HIMSS on a tight budget, but far too many that think nothing of staying in $250/night rooms at a meeting they’d never go to if out of their own pockets.

    It would be really cool if these behemoth software companies would spend a little more attention creating great products and supporting the heck out of them.

  18. I was at HIMSS 1999. Although there were less booths, there was a lot more spending on frivolous booth babes than I saw at HIMSS 2010. Remember Richard Simmons?

    While less work focused than HIMSS 2009, this was a pretty good HIMSS in my opinion – except for that opening keynote commercial by Sprint…

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