Healthcare's biggest convention of information professionals has assembled a rescue package of presentations on how to keep from being burned by Y2K computer problems.
Now it's up to the pros to leave their home fires long enough to attend the sessions.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference and exhibition, to run Feb. 21 to 25 in Atlanta, falls during a critical period in the industry's race to correct date-related programming that can't recognize the new millennium.
No fewer than six sessions are scheduled specifically on the Y2K problem, including a high-profile general session Feb. 24. The focus is on end-stage preparation for the millennium and contingency planning for computer-triggered failures in key business and medical areas, says John Page, HIMSS' executive director.
But healthcare organizations across the country still have so much to do that HIMSS guesses its core membership of computer analysts and programmers will have difficulty breaking free for up to a week.
For the first time since it became a full-fledged convention in 1992, the annual HIMSS conference is expected to attract fewer attendees than the year before.
Last year's conference in Orlando, Fla., attracted 19,500 attendees, up by 20% from 15,800 in 1997 and by 50% from the 12,870 who attended the 1996 gathering, also in Atlanta.
For 1999, convention organizers initially lowered their expectations to about 15,000. But a higher-than-expected registration rate has raised estimates to between 17,000 and 18,000, about 10% lower than last year's total, says Pamela Barrett, HIMSS' director of education and publications.
Shared Medical Systems, the second-largest vendor of healthcare information systems, pulled out of the HIMSS exhibition less than two months before the event, citing healthcare customer demands for Y2K services.
But few others appear to be following the example of Malvern, Pa.-based SMS. In fact, about 100 vendors were still on a waiting list as of last week, says James Anderson, HIMSS exhibits and vendor relations coordinator.
That's despite an increase of 65,000 square feet of available booth space compared with the last exhibition at the same place, the Georgia World Congress Center, in 1996.
Two additional halls will boost the total booth area to 198,000 square feet, up from 133,000 square feet three years ago, allowing 488 exhibitors to squeeze onto the floor, Anderson says.
However, the capacity is still less than the 220,000 square feet of booth space available a year ago at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
Some exhibit space was sacrificed this year to accommodate areas for theater-style presentations and demonstrations.
The 20-by-30-foot theater spaces offered 17 one-hour slots, all of which were sold, Anderson says. Half were offered to registered exhibitors, and half were reserved for vendors on the waiting list, he says.
Page says the theaters are enclosed areas away from the noise of clashing activities in close quarters on the exhibit floor. The idea was discussed last year and validated partly because some vendors, such as Microsoft Corp., said that the booth arrangement sometimes hindered their efforts to explain their products, he says.
This year Microsoft did not book any theater space, however, preferring to cluster software "partners" around its exhibit space, Page says.
HIMSS vendors will have a better chance of getting the undivided attention of attendees this year, thanks to scheduling changes in educational sessions.
Those sessions will be concentrated in the mornings and end just as the exhibition is getting under way instead of overlapping the exhibition.
Last year, each day of the conference started with a general session before smaller sessions began. A year ago 14 sessions were in progress concurrently, which allowed that conference to offer 156 sessions. This year the only general session in the morning will be the opening keynote speech by former President George Bush.
That allows the 144 sessions to begin and end earlier during the next three days, Page says. And only 12 concurrent sessions are planned.
The reduced number of general sessions and concurrent sessions should allow registrants to attend a more educational presentations and still have time to visit the exhibit floor afterward, Page says.
In the wake of the conference, HIMSS will produce a compendium of technical papers on Y2K to help computer professionals get through the home stretch this year. The aim is to compile a wealth of information from various conference sources into a single reference volume, Page says.