The Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society made a bet on New Orleans being recovered enough from Hurricane Katrina to handle its massive, annual healthcare information technology convention this year.
The bet apparently paid off.
Final attendance figures for the HIMSS show werent available, but at the end of the day on Feb. 28, with one full day remaining, 885 exhibitors had signed up to hawk their wares in the refurbished Ernest Morial Convention Center, while 24,707 attendees had registered, according to a HIMSS spokesman. In San Diego last year, HIMSS drew 865 vendors and a record 25,600 visitors. Ice and snow storms that roared through the Midwest and East Coast caused airlines to cancel multiple flights Feb. 25 to Feb. 26, the most likely reason for the reduced attendance. This years confab did, however, still top the then-attendance record set at the Dallas show in 2005, which drew 22,900 people.
What I saw from the very beginning is the spirit in this city, a spirit that said, We can overcome this, HIMSS President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Lieber told a pre-conference gathering of IT company executives and guests Feb. 25. It was not only the right business decision, it was the right moral decision to come to New Orleans, he said.
As usual, HIMSS brought in a handful of big-name industry and government speakers to give keynote addresses, including Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, Robert Kolodner, the interim national coordinator for health IT at HHS and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.
Ballmer described his vision for the future of healthcare IT by focusing on the much-ballyhooed connected home. Think about a home that evolves electronically to support healthcare needs, Ballmer said. Your TV, your smart watch, your video gamethose will all be places where you can receive alerts to take action to help you with your healthcare, he said.
Included in Powells talk was a warning about making the U.S. an unwelcome place for foreign visitors. Powell was preaching to the choir for both HIMSS vendors and attendees as this years convention demonstrated an ever-increasing reach of healthcare IT across U.S. borders.
About 1,000 attendees and 57 exhibitors this year were from outside the U.S., according to a HIMSS spokeswoman, and many of the U.S.-based vendors were reaching out to foreign markets. Michael Nissenbaum, president and CEO of iMedica, a developer of electronic medical records and practice management systems for office-based physicians, said his company sold its first product offshore this year to six physicians in Australia.
In general, the tick of the healthcare IT market was up, with many systems vendors reporting increased business, while the customary spate of contract wins, company alliances and consolidation announcements saved up for the show continued as usual. One notable acquisition was by pharmaceutical wholesaler and IT purveyor McKesson Corp., which announced a deal to buy physician office EMR vendor Practice Partner for an undisclosed price. And the Foundation of Research and Education at the American Health Information Management Association, along with HIMSS and the not-for-profit eHealth Initiative won a $793,000 federal contract to work on identifying and sharing best practices of state and regional healthcare data exchange.
In his keynote address, Kolodner announced that his office was poised to begin a second round of contract awards for trial implementations of state, regional and local health information exchanges. The contract would have a strong focus on patient consent over who can receive what parts of their healthcare information.
Kolodner talked about deciding whether all information in a personal health record should always go to a primary-care physician and whether a patient could prevent the flow of information to some providers or payers, or whether they could choose to block the flow of all their information across the National Health Information Network. He also mentioned the possibility of patients being able to correct errors in their medical records.
I think this represents great progress, said Jody Pettit, health IT coordinator for the state-run Office for Oregon Health Policy and Research.
Others are not so happy with the prospect of adding privacy directives to an already complicated task of sharing medical records. Our physicians say they can get a medical record that looks like Swiss cheese and how are they supposed to render safe and quality care without that information, said Hugh Zettel, director of government and industry relations for GE Healthcare, who also serves as vice chairman of the Electronic Health Records Vendors Association at HIMSS.