When healthcare information management's biggest conclave descends on Atlanta early in March, not all the visitors will be going there for the hundreds of vendor exhibits and scores of sessions on all matters technological.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual educational conference and exposition, which gets under way March 4, is the main event. It's a Monday-through-Thursday extravaganza expected to lure at least 12,000 registrants interested in learning about computer technology or trying to sell it.
But off to one side, executive-level information professionals will be taking a step back from the concentration on sizzling software and wide-area networks. For some chief information officers, the annual HIMSS convention is the time to meet with peers, swap strategies on how to integrate their healthcare facilities, and get a broader perspective on the healthcare industry.
That's where a separate professional association comes in. Called the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, or CHIME, the 5-year-old organization conducts a daylong CIO forum on the Sunday before the HIMSS conference.
The top information systems executive is more concerned about the broad impact of computerization than in the technical issues, said Christopher Macmanus, vice president and CIO of Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.
"CHIME focuses on that and does a lot better job," Macmanus said. "I spend a majority of my time interacting with my colleagues or walking the exhibit floor. I spend much less time going to the sessions (at HIMSS)."
The sessions cover a cross section of a broad membership. About 800 of HIMSS' 6,000 members are CIO-level executives, but the bulk of the organization's membership consists of information systems professionals at the director or analyst level, who are looking for hands-on help and case-study examples to emulate. In addition, HIMSS membership includes telecommunications and management engineering professionals.
CHIME offers its own lineup of sessions "designed by CIOs for CIOs" at the Sunday forum, said Richard Correll, its president. But the program, and CHIME's activities in general, are intended as an "adjunct" to HIMSS rather than an alternative, he said.
"We wanted to provide a greater focus on the CIO position, and it just wasn't possible to provide that within HIMSS, because they have three constituencies they're expected to serve equally," Correll said.
The two organizations recently reached agreement on complementary objectives and activities, and CHIME has instituted a dual-membership requirement for its CIOs, reflected in the $320 annual dues payment.
Correll said membership in CHIME is at 550. HIMSS said it also has another 236 CIO-level members who aren't also CHIME members.
Membership in CHIME is restricted to the highest-ranking information executive in a healthcare provider organization or managed-care organization. Exceptions are made for the largest healthcare networks, in which CIOs of individual facilities may have management responsibilities equal to those of members representing healthcare facilities, Correll said.
The association has resisted the temptation to open up its membership to the next tier of management, he said, explaining that executives at the forum "want to be able to turn to either side and talk to someone in the same type of environment."
About 200 had signed up for the forum as of the end of January, and about half the membership of 550 is expected to attend.
The speakers and topics frequently are taken from outside healthcare, Correll said. Top CIOs "want to make sure their periscope is way up and they're trying to pick up whatever they can," he said.
Some industries may be ahead of healthcare's progression, or they're positioning their information technology for a move into the field.
The featured speaker at the March 3 forum is James Clark, founder and chief executive officer of Netscape Communications. The heralded developer of Internet-related software is targeting healthcare, and Clark was asked to talk about that, said Correll.
Other speakers include Manuel Fernandez, top executive of the Gartner Group, which follows information technology trends in all industries including healthcare; Ed Parrish, corporate vice president for information technologies at Johnson & Johnson; and Philip Katz, M.D., vice president and CIO at Health Systems International, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based HMO.
Another CIO forum is held in the fall of each year, and CHIME also sponsors management executive courses ranging from three to five days in length.
Besides the meetings, CHIME facilitates data sharing among CIOs by coordinating surveys on topics suggested by any member to help in planning or operating information systems, Correll said.
CHIME also is building a database in partnership with HCIA, a Baltimore-based healthcare information company. About 500 data elements are planned on a variety of subjects including experiences with information systems products and vendors, he said.
The shift in healthcare to managed care has led to forum discussions on the evolving role of the CIO in that changing environment. CHIME also has been marketing itself to managed-care circles to make its membership composition reflect that influence in healthcare, Correll said.
Initiatives have included co-sponsorship of the annual meeting of the Group Health Association of America, which offers a meeting track on information technology.