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April 8, 2015 Startup CEOs and Investors 3 Comments

My HIMSS Was Great — Hope Yours Will Be, Too!
By Brian Weiss


So Much to Say… So Few Listening

Back in ancient times when not everything had to support this quarter’s numbers or the next funding round, I took a few college courses that were not directly related to my plans to become a software engineer. I don’t remember exactly which Something Interesting And Not Practical Career-Wise 101 course it was in which we pontificated about whether a tree falling in a forest that nobody hears makes a sound.

I wish I remembered the answer, as I think it may have some implications for vendor press releases on the first day of HIMSS. It may also be relevant for writers of HIStalk columns. But I was probably busy optimizing some assembly code interpreter written in Pascal (which engineering readers will recognize as potentially good material for the aforementioned college course).

Seems that almost every day for the past few weeks someone has been serving up another high fastball over my columnist strike zone. CommonWell and Epic trade barbs, MU3 guidelines are published, everything is “on FHIR,” patient-centric data exchange is all the rage, and the US Congress allocates more time to healthcare data interoperability than most hospital system executives. If you’ve followed some of my previous articles on CommonWell, FHIR, and consumer-centric healthcare IT, you can imagine I have a few things to say about some of this stuff.

But I haven’t yet submitted any of these articles in the making. I’m pretty sure I was the most prolific HIStalk column contributor who published nothing in the month of March. Thankfully, no trees have to fall in any forests each time HIStalk news updates land in my Inbox and I feel compelled to open up MS-Word and crank out my passionate thoughts about “whatever,” only to decide somewhere on Page Two that I don’t have anything dramatically new and insightful to add to what I’ve already said.

Besides, who is going to read this stuff I’m drafting with everyone busy preparing for HIMSS?

So instead, I’ll share with you a few of my thoughts about HIMSS itself. Given that I have only attended HIMSS once in the past (in a rather peripheral role) and this is my first HIMSS as a startup CEO, why would you want to read my HIMSS tips, insights, or analysis?

You wouldn’t! That’s why I’ll leave all that to Mr. H and the HIStalk team and all the others who already helped make sure that searching for “HIMSS tips analysis” returns close to half a million hits on Google. That should keep you busy enough on the way to Chicago, even if you are on the shuttle from Uranus and you need to find parking near the convention center.

Here are some of my somewhat contrarian views on HIMSS, though I reserve the right to change my mind about all of them at the end of next week (or whenever I’m certifiably fully awake).

It’s Floor Wax AND Dessert Topping

If you understood this section’s header, then I suppose you also didn’t have enough on your social calendar on Saturday nights in the 70s. If you didn’t understand, try Google (or don’t worry about it). Point is that HIMSS is undoubtedly many different things for different attendees and audiences. While I speak for nobody (perhaps other than myself — we are still debating that internally) I’m hopeful some of this will reflect other startup participants at HIMSS (and perhaps even some more established exhibitors) and thus, in the intended spirit of this column, provide a view into life “on the other side of the aisle” for those of you on the side with the very sore feet.

I have no idea how HIMSS attendees manage to have a productive visit to the massive HIMSS hall. Those of you who actually make it to the peripheral locations (which the HIMSS rules generally assign to new participants); the small, low-budget booths (that rich startups can afford); or the individual pods allocated to partners in various “sponsored pavilions” (where startups are most likely to be) have my sincere admiration. Not enough to get me to put down my cellphone and notice you, but certainly enough to feel a little ashamed when Mr. H takes me to task on that.

I don’t fully get what you think you are going to learn with all this legwork that you can’t more easily pick up with a tablet, a web browser, and your feet up on the couch. I get the part about collecting freebies, but I’m not bringing any, so it’s probably just as well that I’m polishing my BrickBreaker skills (I will trade in my rusting BlackBerry as soon as I get past level three). But, I’m glad you’re there racking up the steps on your fitness bracelet, because without you, there would be no HIMSS.

My HIMSS Was Great!

HIMSS for me was great. Yes, “was” — past tense. Next week might be good as well, I don’t know. But that’s icing (or floor wax) on the cake, from my perspective.

For me right now, HIMSS is first and foremost a “compelling event” that makes many other things happen in the weeks leading up to it. The value of those things is rather independent of — and I expect will prove to be of far greater value than — anything that happens at the event itself.

First and possibly foremost, HIMSS is the excuse vendor companies like mine need to force a refresh of our slide decks, web site, positioning statements, brochures, demo kits, etc. It even forces our R&D departments to do one of the most unnatural acts in software engineering – release a product version.

Next, and particularly important for a small startup like mine, HIMSS creates a compelling event for our work with partners. My company, Carebox, is going to be part of demonstrations in four locations at HIMSS. Yes, I’m dying to tell you where so I can feel like I’ve gotten free marketing benefits in exchange for writing this column when there are a million other things I’m supposed to be doing right now “before HIMSS.” But even if I caveat that with some clever, self-deprecating line like, “Here comes the shameless plug,” I actually would feel shame (and Mr H might edit it out). So, think of it as a scavenger hunt with no prizes. What could be more fun than that?

Now, where was I? Oh, right, looking for the Carebox presence buried in various booths at HIMSS. The point is that even though I don’t really expect any direct benefit from people noticing our presence in all those locations, I’m thrilled about each of them. Because we now have sales demonstrations and scripts, sandbox environments, and more importantly, working product integrations and/or go-to-market plans with all of those rather important partners.

With the exception of our primary host and partner at HIMSS, Box (Booth # 8714 – I couldn’t resist the shameless plug after all — oh, the humiliation), were it not for HIMSS, I believe we would still not even have started practical product and go-to-market work with the others.

The scheduled press releases for next week mentioning my company that Mr. H will ignore — and might have covered and called out this week, or most any other week, and I thus doubt you will even hear falling in the proverbial forest — matter to me as well. They’ll provide important quotes and links for my web site and presentations for months to come. And they create momentum with the partners that published them and within their internal sales organizations.

The obligatory “Will I see you at HIMSS?” e-mails, dinner invitations, etc. have all given me much-needed excuses to reconnect with dropped leads that are generating significant business opportunities as we speak.

There are many more examples, but I think you get the idea, and I’m well into Page Two of this article which is usually when I start boring myself (yes, and you).

While You’re at HIMSS, I’ll Be Very Busy …

I’ve never (yet?) attended the JP Morgan conference and thus enjoyed Michael Barbouche’s writeup a few months ago. My HIMSS schedule is shaping up a bit like what he described – a series of hourly slots in various locations, some at the event itself, others in nearby hotel rooms, some in local restaurants, and one or two in offices around town.

I still have a little time slotted to actually be “in the booth” as opposed to “in the closed holding cell in the middle of the booth constructed so that we can do conference meetings as if we were in the office and just trying to optimize travel logistics, but have to put up with all the noise around us and the other lousy environmental conditions for a meeting.”

But that’s only because I’m not really important (yet?), in which case you would only see me “in the booth” in the context of a journey to get liquids into or out of my body, or as per regulations for “minimum required time in the yard outside of the cell.”

Most of those meetings are definitely important to me and I suppose those constitute “part of HIMSS” and thus invalidate my claim that HIMSS is “past tense” for me, but I think logical consistency was part of that same course I wasn’t paying attention to back in college, so no worries there.

… With You?

If you think you might be a potential customer, partner, investor, or romantic interest (just kidding!) of Carebox, you can still claim my few remaining available minutes next week by reaching out and scheduling any open slots I still have. I’m told that by pre-allocating my time to pre-qualified interactions I can pre-impact the expected value from my HIMSS experience (and perhaps also finally understand why people actually board the plane during pre-boarding).

And then I suppose my HIMSS experience could be completely orthogonal to that of the thousands of people walking around the hall.

Except that won’t actually work for me. I don’t really know the statistical likelihood that a chance encounter in a booth at HIMSS will result in something that changes the trajectory of my company. Maybe that was also covered in one of those college courses I seem to have missed. But apparently the people who did really well in that course don’t buy lottery tickets and don’t start new healthcare IT companies.

So I’ll hopefully be the guy who remembered to turn off his cell phone and otherwise managed to follow a few of the thousands of “10 best tips” for HIMSS and maybe we’ll strike up an interesting conversation. And maybe next year before HIMSS I’ll write a very different (and better) article.

See you next week… if you can find me!

Brian Weiss is founder of Carebox.

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brian,
    I went to your website because I was not familiar with Carebox, so if nothing else people may find you online! Great concept! What would also be great is if you have a way to pull labs out and graph them over time, no matter where they came from. My brother has labs at UVA, labs at LabCorp in town, we get the PDF, I then create a spreadsheet so we can see how he is trending – hard to do with multiple PDFs, and oh by the way – put in comments to show when he received PRBCs, when he received EPO, or Iron. That may be too much to ask for this solution – but it would be meaningful which so much of “meaningful use” is not. Even his doctors seem to have trouble keeping up with whether he is up or down given the disparate systems.

    We are finding that he can walk in the door, lab printout in hand, but “name the medical center” wants “their lab” to re-do it or the two docs don’t talk to each other so no coordination of tests to ensure the patient can be stuck once for two different doctor visits the same week. So it may be a while before the patient can avoid being stuck unnecessarily despite this.

    Enjoyed the video, love the pictures on the home page, but the words over the pictures- not effective, hard to read. Maybe put the families to one side, the medical folks to the other, the words in the middle? Good luck – exciting endeavor!

  2. New website (like everything else on my to-do list, short of the peace-on-earth stuff) should be ready by HIMSS… unless I can manage to keep finding excuses to work on something else (like writing a HISTalk article and responding to comments about it).

    Drop me a note offline (hello@careboxhealth,com goes right to me) and (probably after HIMSS) I’ll share more with you about where I think we (and others – no shortage of good folks tackling this in different ways) are going vis a vis your use case and some of the formidable challenges that you noted.

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