Looking back, one thing that continued to amaze H. Stephen Lieber has been the steady influx of innovators trying their hand at health information technology.
“I think it's reflective of this business that it's still growing,” said Lieber, president and CEO of the Healthcare and Information Management Systems Society during a recent interview.
Lieber talked during the recent annual HIMSS convention in Orlando, his last as the organization's leader. He'll step down Jan. 1, 2018, after more than 17 years at the helm.
“I did not expect the growth to continue at this rate,” Lieber said. “We're looking at 250 first-time exhibitors. Two hundred to 300 has been the number of new exhibitors for as long as I can remember.”
About 10% of the audience – just under 4,000 people – came from outside the U.S., he said. About 15% of total revenue at HIMSS comes from abroad.
Lieber, 63, was hired on as HIMSS president and CEO in May 2000. In 2011, his first full year at the helm, the annual HIMSS convention drew more than 17,000 attendees. This year's show in Orlando hosted about 42,300, an increase of nearly 150% during Lieber's tenure.
Lieber said he's been asked to sit as a non-voting member of the search team looking for his replacement. A first list of possible candidates was to be delivered to the group by an executive search firm during the show. The new hire should be someone not like him when he started – they'll need to have both international and organizational leadership experience and a background in technology, none of which he had in 2000 – or even someone like him now, Lieber said.
“It's time for the organization to have somebody with different ideas and different experiences,” he said, moving HIMSS closer to the innovative edge of HIT. One thing HIMSS might do is set up a program that in some way could vet new health IT systems, he said.
In 2004, HIMSS joined with the American Health Information Management Association and the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, all three Chicago-based groups, to form the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, a not-for-profit association that created the first major testing and certification program for electronic health records systems.
CCHIT was formed at the request of Dr. David Brailer, the first head of the then-fledgling Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS, to provide an equivalent to the Underwriters' Laboratory seal of approval for health IT systems. CCHIT was eclipsed by testing and certification programs under the HITECH provisions of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and went out of business in 2014.
“The whole idea was to provide the buyer some assurance what they were buying might work,” Lieber said.
Now that the EHR incentive payment program is on its last dollars, HIMSS could “help people navigate the myriad of offerings out there,” he said.
That could position HIMSS for the future, Lieber said, closer to the edge with what he called “smaller technology.”
“There's always going to be a lot of investment in big systems,” the Epics and the Cerners of the HIT world, Lieber said. “But I think a direction that HIMSS needs to go is around new technologies, focusing more on that development phase of new technology.”
“HIMSS has to be nimble,” he said. “It has to think ahead and see how the field is changing and be with that change. HIMSS is never going to be ahead of change. We'll never be bleeding edge, but we need to get farther out in terms of what's emerging.”
Leaving HIMSS will be more of a transition than a retirement for Lieber who says he has few favorite hobbies to capture his free time and attention.
“I've still got trouble to cause,” Lieber said. “I don't know what it is yet...and (yet) I'm not worried about it. I'm not bothered."
He said he's thought about government service, or quasi-governmental with an non-governmental organization because he's got a strong global focus.
HIMSS has offices in Singapore; Berlin and Leipzig, Germany; London and Yorkshire, England, and has “some local presence” in the Middle East provided through a part-time contractor, Lieber said.
Moving overseas, particularly in Europe, was no cakewalk, with an initial milestone passing in 2006 participating in the World of Health IT conference in Geneva under the auspices of the European Commission.
If he had a do-over, “We should have worked on building the audience (abroad) first instead of going through with events. We didn't pay enough attention to audience development."
On the one hand, “We were the American group coming in,” Lieber said. But on the other, having the EC behind the conference, gave it credibility. And, being an outsider, “We were able to do some things the locals can't due to politics and history.”