Keep the organization membership-driven and focused on the needs of its members, review its governance structure including board composition, and work on a successful launch of global initiatives, that's what Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer George Hickman said will be the priorities during his one-year term, which began July 1, as Health Information and Management Systems Society chairman.
Or more simply, Hickman said his goals can be summarized as delivering everything HIMSS has on its table the best it can and to do well the things that it's doing. To further this goal, he said HIMSS has just started working on an assessment of its board and its strategic plan.
HIMSS' global initiatives include an Oct. 10-13 conference in Geneva, Switzerland, and one in Singapore next May 15-18.
"We're pretty excited about that," Hickman said. "I think we'll learn from one another."
While the international shows are generating excitement, the decision to hold next year's HIMSS show in New Orleans is generating some concern as observers wonder if the city's hurricane-damaged facilities will be ready by Feb. 25 to handle the annual conference which attracted 25,600 attendees and 865 exhibitors to San Diego this past February.
"We spent a good bit of time as a board talking through the New Orleans decision and our management group sent a team to New Orleans to be on the ground to understand what the situation is there," Hickman said. "The hurricane directly affected a good number of our members. And a good number of corporate members are involved with the rebuilding efforts. ... The board agreed unanimously to stay committed to the city of New Orleans."
Hickman also acknowledged that he is familiar with the criticisms that the annual HIMSS conference has grown too big and expensive, which makes it hard for smaller companies and entrepreneurs to get noticed.
"I can recall the days when the HIMSS (exhibit) floor was the size of a high-school gym and people sat at 8-by-3 tables with skirts using those 'sewing machine' portable computers," Hickman said. "Now it's an incredible event and it is competitive to get floor space, but we're trying hard to make sure the small guy has a place within the HIMSS organization -- either as a business or as an individual."
He added that it is possible to take advantage of the conference's networking opportunities without having to pay for a booth.
The future direction and strength of the health IT industry could depend heavily on action taken in Washington and, while expressing admiration for the former national coordinator for health IT, David Brailer, Hickman expressed disappointment in federal funding levels and the time it's taken to get health IT legislation passed.
"Dr. Brailer, first of all, he's a great guy and the type of person we would want to have in the pulpit," Hickman said. "He's been able to articulate problems as well as the need and benefits health IT can bring to healthcare as a nation."
Even though he chairs the largest health IT trade organization, Hickman said he has no inside knowledge on who will take Brailer's old job.
"I think we're all wondering what happens next," he said. "No one has told me that there's someone today willing to step up and take the job on."
He said the lack of financial support may be a major reason why there is a shortage of candidates, but he said there is a lack of funding throughout healthcare and -- in addition to requiring money -- the health IT industry also requires leadership and accountability.
Hickman added that the HIMSS staff maintains a strong presence in Washington monitoring the legislative process and reporting back to its members in the field. But in terms of IT legislation, he said, "We're not seeing things come to closure the way we'd like to seem them come to closure."
On the other hand, Hickman said he understands how tough it can be reaching a consensus on tenuous issues, because -- as an organization -- HIMSS has to do the same things. He cited how HIMSS members include both nurses and medical managers who don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on issues such as nurse-staffing ratios. "They've had a lot to say to each other," Hickman said. "We've had interesting discussions because we have to work through the concerns of the different members of a large organization."
In addition to seeing to the concerns of HIMSS members and the general direction of the nation's health IT industry, Hickman also has to manage the technology rollouts at the Albany Medical Center where he has worked for the past three years.
These include a new enterprise picture archiving and communications system, or PACS, which he said "obsoleted" five stand-alone systems, implementing a new medication barcode system with nurses using handheld readers, and developing a new Web site.
"My job is really about capacity resourcing," Hickman explained. "I see my job as being an advocate to those who have technology needs."
A Tennessee native, Hickman said he is adapting to the colder climate in Albany, and he describes the community as "too much of a well-kept secret" and a great place to raise a family. His own family includes two daughters, ages 5 and 7.
He is also a fly fisherman and said he recently found time to spend a long weekend casting about in Utah.
"I don't sleep much," Hickman admitted, and said he gets up most mornings at 4:30 and proceeds to drink a couple cups of coffee while reading e-mails. "Then I run a couple miles and then get into the office between six and 6:30. ... Somehow you find opportunities in the seasons of your life to get plugged in."
What do you think? Write us with your comments at [email protected]. Please include your name, title and hometown.