Eyeing additional sources of good information for its membership and additional sources of revenue for itself, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society last week decided to jump into the information-technology data collection business by forming a new subsidiary.
The decision by the HIMSS board to launch the subsidiary, which would operate under a separate board and management team, fuels the Chicago-based association's strategy to become an authoritative source of healthcare IT statistics while also supplying a sufficient revenue base to expand its reach into new areas of influence such as ambulatory-care clinical information systems and Washington-based advocacy.
Those goals of leadership and financial stability were put forward two years ago when HIMSS gathered several vendors of varied types of IT-related data and aggregated their products into a fee-based offering called the Solutions Toolkit. Offered online to member and nonmember organizations looking for IT purchasing help, the association-managed product line was supposed to fill a need and bring in revenue other than dues and profits from its annual conference and exhibition.
But although the Solutions Toolkit was projected to lose money during its first three years, sales have not met even the original red-ink level of revenue projections, said HIMSS President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Lieber, who will have a seat on the board of the new subsidiary. Meanwhile, expenses to operate and revise the Web-based information repository have come in as expected-predictably high. The service will cost about $150,000 to run this year, he said.
Lieber said the sources of information for the Solutions Toolkit from participating vendors make up a data trove that's helpful to small- to medium-sized hospitals that cannot afford sophisticated analytical services but want to get information about the IT market to make purchasing decisions. But the product doesn't delve deep enough to attract a wide revenue base. "It won't achieve the (revenue) size expectations we have unless we build the richness of it," he said.
That's where the new company comes in, though officials have yet to define the scope of their ambitions to give hospitals more of what they need. "We don't think the right kind of information is flowing back to providers," Lieber said. Though plenty of information on hospital IT operations and purchasing trends is being collected and sold, it's packaged and delivered for other audiences such as vendors seeking sales leads, he said. An example, he said, is the database of provider IT information produced by Sheldon I. Dorenfest & Associates, which also supplies selected elements of data to the Solutions Toolkit.
Hospitals that complete a questionnaire updating the database get a paper copy of results in their market, said company CEO Sheldon Dorenfest. But he added, "Our mechanism for giving information back (to surveyed providers) needs to be improved."
Dorenfest said plans are being considered to build a service that enables providers to search for information on a Web site, but in the meantime, he was concerned about how close the HIMSS effort will be to his own. "It's a complicated business; it's not a huge business. I would not want a lot of people doing the same thing." Talks are in progress to supply information to the new HIMSS initiative under the assumption of a "complementary" arrangement, Dorenfest said.
The HIMSS plans were unveiled during its annual convention, which set records for attendance, numbers of exhibitors and exhibit space. The tentative total of 21,000 registrants is 1,500 more than the previous high, and the 715 exhibitors exceeded last year's record of 686 and occupied 293,000 square feet.
The success of the convention highlighted the HIMSS dependence on that revenue and is part of the reason for the diversification effort, Lieber said at last week's convention in Orlando, Fla. "A huge amount of HIMSS (financial stability) rides on this show," he said.
"Just think what would have happened if 9-11 happened on Jan. 11 (of 2002). This show might not have happened."