Why I’m Not Jaded for My 20th HIMSS Conference

by | Feb 15, 2018

As you read this, you’re likely in HIMSS conference prep mode – arranging meetings, checking for the sessions you want to attend, coordinating with colleagues, perhaps preparing a presentation. It’s all too easy to be overwhelmed and disheartened by far too many choices, far too few responses to requests, and the knowledge that much of what you’re going to see and hear is over-hyped or lacking in details. You’re concerned that when you get home and someone asks you about the major themes, or what’s really new or actionable, you won’t really know.

As I prep for my 20th HIMSS conference, I thought I would provide my perspective, and tell you why, rather than being jaded, I’m stoked.

It’s all there. If you’re trying to justify the big trip and expense, think about how many other trips you’ve made for a hit-or-miss meeting with just one organization. At HIMSS, you’ve got multiple targets to aim for, so you’re highly likely to have a least a few great meetings. Just about every health IT vendor and health system has some presence at HIMSS; some vendors might not have a booth, and most providers won’t, but that still doesn’t stop you from meeting someplace – perhaps at a keynote or session you both find interesting.

It’s face-to-face meetings. While an increasing amount of information can be well-shared on websites and virtual meetings, nothing compares to face-to-face. If you’re new, you’ll meet new people. If you’ve been around, you’ll catch up with those you know (and meet new people). I like to exchange business cards – most people still carry them – and jot a few notes on the back so I can follow up after HIMSS. Although most people are really harried for the first day or two of HIMSS, and many execs leave by then, people are a bit exhausted by the third day. When meeting at the many social events or venues (after all, this is Vegas) or at a vendor’s booth later in the week, after the hype has died down, people are more likely to share a bit more with you.

It’s the innovation. I sometimes feel bad for the hundreds of small companies with the tiny booths tucked away on a lonely aisle. It’s hard to spend more than a few minutes with them with so many medium and larger vendors with solutions you need to see. I like helping them out by providing some perspective on which more established vendors have similar capabilities or could use what they have. I like hearing their ideas. Although many of them won’t make it, and the days of tiny companies growing to unicorns and IPOs are over, partnerships, app stores, and M&A are all alive and well.

For advances such as biomechanics, stem-cell research, genetic engineering, and brain computer interfaces to be implemented, it will require the best of our IT infrastructure and applications to find the right patients and risk-models.

It’s the opportunities. Although it’s easy to believe that decades of medicine practiced the same way will continue, with payers and providers duking it out, we’re on the cusp of major change. With EHRs now in place, interoperability barriers starting to yield, consumer engagement on the rise, and data accumulating like never before to support PHM and care management, we’re able to build on top of and embrace new technologies and business models. Value-based models, ACOs, joint ventures, and provider-payer convergence, although still struggling to gain traction, represent the future. We’re reaching for many major frontiers: Use of ML, AI, and NLP in support of advanced analytics and decision support; greater focus on social determinants of health, especially behavior health; advances in precision medicine, with rapidly lowering costs; and use of blockchain, especially for trusted exchange and contract management.

It’s a reality check. Well, if you’re still jaded, I would ask you to remember driving without GPS, communicating without a smartphone, and purchasing before the internet. Do you remember the days when healthcare conference speakers claimed we were at the tipping point for EHRs? We’re there. We can all take lessons from tech’s “Frightful 5” of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple; they have redefined and ruled their space, doing what many didn’t believe possible or valuable. Do you have an Alexa yet? Have you tried Google Translate? Have you tried an activity/sleep tracking wearable? Have you done a virtual visit?

It’s the future. I’m reading The Body Builders, a book by Adam Piore about advances in biomechanics, stem-cell research, genetic engineering, brain computer interfaces, etc. I can’t wait to get to HIMSS to talk about this exciting stuff. For these advances to be implemented, it will require the best of our IT infrastructure and applications to find the right patients and risk-models. I hope I can contribute.

My advice for HIMSS18:

  • Pick your areas of interest, look at the schedule in advance, and reach out to schedule the meetings you want to have.
  • Attend the keynotes and your sessions of interest. Ask the people sitting on either side of you, “What do you think?” Give them a business card.
  • Take notes as you go. While some use a paper notebook, I carry my tablet.
  • Post to social media. Use the #HIMSS18 hashtag as well as one (or more) supplemental hashtags on a number of health IT subtopics. If you’d like, chat with me on Twitter @kkleinberg1.
  • Consider joining a HIMSS community and meeting like-minded folks. Many local chapters hold events throughout the year.
  • Go to some receptions.
  • Leave some room for a bit of exploring.

Yes, HIMSS is a marathon. It’s exhausting, but you can rest up afterwards. Run hard, but don’t beat yourself up for not getting to even a fraction of what you would like to have seen.

And oh yes, as you’re looking to understand the major themes and what is new and actionable, or if you have a great idea or product you want others to know more about, I hope you’ll want to share your thoughts and impressions with our analyst team here at Chilmark.


  1. David Foster

    Good advice, “When meeting … later in the week, after the hype has died down, people are more likely to share a bit more with you.” Another advantage of late week interactions is that people have had a chance to observe events and gather information so their insights are more informed.

    • Ken Kleinberg

      Yes, that’s a great point – a bit of reflection time is also valuable. We’re just now publishing our HIMSS recap blogs – thanks for commenting!

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