The healthcare industry's trade group for information technology is using some new tools of the trade to add impact to its annual membership survey.
If all goes according to plan, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society will corral hundreds of additional respondents, bolstering the significance of conclusions and making the sample big enough to split into demographic subgroups.
The strategy: Transfer the questionnaire onto the Internet during the association's annual conference and exhibition Feb. 22-26 in Orlando, Fla.
A signature effort of the association, HIMSS Leadership Survey, Trends in Health Care Computing has become a popular resource for analysts and others trying to predict the priorities of healthcare organizations.
During an eight-year partnership with Hewlett-Packard Co., HIMSS typically had set up a dozen or more computers at its annual convention to capture the thoughts of attendees about everything from the popularity of new technologies to the top clinical and management needs that cry out for computerization.
But survey participation has stagnated during the past several years even as convention attendance has exploded (See chart). The new approach aims to stimulate easy access to the survey and broaden its usefulness, says John Page, HIMSS executive director.
The association decided to drop Hewlett-Packard as a survey partner this year in favor of IBM Global Healthcare, which proposed an Internet strategy that makes use of all personal computers throughout the convention facility.
Inside the cavernous Orange County Convention Center, attendees will be able to punch up the survey from more than 100 personal computers set up to provide World Wide Web and e-mail access as well as information about association services.
That allows attendees to take the survey while they are linked to the Internet for other purposes.
During the past few years, IBM has conducted the registration for HIMSS and granted access to Web-linked computer banks, says John Ryan, marketing manager for IBM Global Healthcare.
But organizers are looking to tap the survey potential of more than just the estimated 20,000 attendees at this year's convention. Situating the survey on the Web will open up the site to HIMSS members unable to attend the convention.
The survey will be accessible from either the HIMSS or the IBM Web sites. Page says the questionnaire won't be on the main page of either site. Rather, a specific Web address will be assigned.
Page acknowledges the risks of such universal accessibility. For example, nothing would prevent an information services vendor from having employees blitz the Web site and answer certain questions to reflect favorably on a technology for which it's trying to drum up support.
"There's a potential for that, just as with anything you're going to open up to a wider audience," he says. "We're hoping the benefits outweigh the potential risks."
The association could secure the survey by requiring member-related passwords, "but that assumes HIMSS members are the only people we want opinions from," Page says. Even at the convention, nearly half of attendees aren't card-carrying association members but are still fair game for the survey because of their industry credentials, he adds.
Ryan says when IBM analysts compile results, they will check "to see if something's out of whack" compared with patterns in previous surveys.
Results will be posted on the Web sites as soon as they're compiled, and they'll include different "cuts" of the data in addition to aggregate responses, as reported in previous years.
Analysts will record responses according to such demographic variables as size and geographic location of respondent organizations, Page says.
The latest attempt to flag down busy convention-goers is a long way from 1994 and 1995, when survey organizers scouted a high-traffic area to set up survey camp and then sent smartly dressed female models in search of prospects.
They'd make eye contact with "attractees" and ask them to fill out the survey. Page says HIMSS ended the use of what is known in the trade show industry as "attack models" after 1995.