A foray into healthcare information technology is in the works for a giant trade-show company that operates the biggest computer convention in the country.
The new healthcare conference would put the operators of the Comdex show, held annually amid the glitz of Las Vegas, in the same niche as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's fast-growing annual conference and exhibition.
But the prime movers of the Comdex healthcare conference, planned for Oct. 16-17 in Boston, say they're not out to compete with the healthcare industry's biggest information technology conference.
In fact, officials of the trade-show company Softbank Comdex say their strategy for the healthcare conference is to be intentionally much smaller than the HIMSS convention, a striking contrast to the flagship Comdex show, which dwarfs HIMSS in attendance by nearly 15 to 1.
The Comdex healthcare information technology conclave is aimed at bringing together a wide range of healthcare players for brainstorming sessions on such problems as integration of information systems, exchange of data with computerized medical equipment and the use of emerging technologies such as the Internet, said Jordan Rice, a consultant and spokesman for the conference.
And its focus will move pointedly away from the hospital-based emphasis that Rice said pervades the HIMSS sessions and dominates the exhibition floor.
The most recent HIMSS convention in March attracted about 14,000 attendees in Atlanta to its 100-plus educational sessions and 430 companies presenting their wares on the exhibit floor.
Despite its size, "the kind of thing I'm looking at for my clients is not there at HIMSS," said Rice, whose Lawrenceville, Ga.-based firm, Health Care Consulting International, sets up computer systems for multiple-site physician practices and walk-in medical centers.
Besides those groups, HIMSS is thin on participation by managed-care organizations, which opt for other venues such as the National Managed Health Care Congress, Rice said.
The Comdex-sponsored conference is promoting itself as a way to get those interests together with vendors of varied software products and sophisticated medical equipment to step up the problem-solving pace of data integration among points in a healthcare network, Rice said.
The target attendance is 400 to 500, with no more than 30 exhibitors presenting their products and services in a "tabletop" fashion, according to a proposal by Judy Geller, Comdex director of conference business development.
Because of the emphasis on integration strategy and interaction among attendees, the conference planners don't want exhibitors to build booths with thousands of square feet and take attention away from the brainstorming sessions, Rice said. "If HBO and IDX are there, fine; but they should have an 8-by-10 booth," he said.
The whittled-down scope of the conference ironically grew out of the situation at the Comdex show in Las Vegas, in which healthcare information technology exhibitors and speakers "were just getting lost there" among the 2,200 vendors and 200,000 attendees, Rice said.
In a survey of 2,400 healthcare attendees, 94% said they favored breaking out the healthcare technology component of Comdex into a separate conference, he said.
The proposed conference lineup is a mix of workshops, roundtable discussions and keynote addresses, aimed at three groups:
Senior executives of HMOs, PPOs, large group practices, hospitals, community health information networks and healthcare payers.
Directors, managers and technical employees responsible for the day-to-day implementation of information technology.
Software developers and representatives of companies that fit into the electronic data-transfer continuum, including Internet service companies and makers of medical equipment.
For Softbank Comdex, the Needham, Mass.-based trade-show company behind the conference, healthcare is one of a number of industries targeted as avenues of diversification.
Its parent corporation, Japan-based Softbank Corp., purchased the computer trade show business of Interface Group, which included Comdex, in April 1995 for $800 million.
In addition to the fall Comdex show, launched in 1979, the company operates a spring version of Comdex, a traveling venue that weighs in at about 1,000 exhibitors and 100,000 attendees. That conference is this week in Chicago.
Softbank Comdex also operates 15 other trade shows under the Comdex name on four continents.