The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society has canceled its annual health information and technology conference in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The trade group confirmed cancellation of the event, which had been slated to run March 9-13 in Orlando, Fla., to exhibitors Thursday afternoon.
"Made apparent by recent reports from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus continues to spread globally and the situation is so dynamic that each day brings a new development," Elli Riley, senior director of exhibitor and meeting services at HIMSS, wrote in the email to exhibitors. "It is clearly necessary to cancel the 2020 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition."
It marks the first time in 58 years that the event has been canceled, Riley wrote.
HIMSS' decision to cancel was informed by a medical advisory panel that the group had assembled Monday, which felt that emerging information about the possible reach of the virus made it "impossible to accurately assess risk," according to Riley.
Marc Probst, chief information officer at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare, said he had been planning to attend the conference if it had proceeded as scheduled, but that the cancellation made sense given ongoing concerns about COVID-19.
"It's not surprising," he said.
HIMSS20 is one of the largest gatherings of health IT professionals in the nation, typically drawing in more than 40,000 attendees. HIMSS20 had nearly 37,000 people registered and more than 1,300 exhibitors slated to be there, Karen Groppe, senior director of strategic communications at HIMSS, said earlier this week.
President Donald Trump had been scheduled to speak on March 9, marking the first time a sitting president would have given remarks at the event and leading some to predict HHS planned to release final versions of long-awaited information-blocking and interoperability rules at HIMSS20.
HIMSS20 joins a handful of technology conferences that have announced plans to cancel or postpone their events in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, including Google I/O in Mountain View, Calif., and Facebook's F8 in San Jose, Calif. Others, like Microsoft Corp.'s MVP Global Summit in Redmond, Wash., and the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, are now online-only events.
A number of healthcare and technology companies had already pulled back on plans to attend HIMSS20, saying they had cracked down on employee travel internationally and domestically in response to the coronavirus. Amazon, Humana, Intel Corp., Salesforce and Siemens Healthineers were among organizations that confirmed they'd withdrawn from participating in HIMSS20.
"It couldn't have been an easy (decision to cancel) with such a large conference, but I do thank HIMSS for making that decision," said Josh Sol, director of innovation and ambulatory clinical systems at Houston Methodist's center for innovation. "I think it was a good one."
Sol had decided not to attend HIMSS20 the day before the cancellation, partially in response to news about multiple cases of COVID-19 in Florida.
"We really wanted to go, but it just didn't make sense this year," he said.
The annual conference is a major source of revenue for HIMSS. In their fiscal year ended June 2018, HIMSS reported $43 million in revenue from conferences and meetings, according to an Internal Revenue Service Form 990. It's total revenue was $94 million.
The cancellation could have a significant financial impact not just on HIMSS, but also on participating companies.
"This is going to have a huge economic impact, for both big companies and small companies," said Pam Arlotto, president and CEO of healthcare consultancy Maestro Strategies. "For a lot of people, this is where they touch base with their customers and do a lot of their business development."
This will be the first year Arlotto hasn't attended the conference since 1982.
"I wish we had all known this about a week ago, " she said of the cancellation. "It probably is the right thing to do, but I think a lot of us were going to go and risk it."
Organizations that planned to exhibit at the conference have said they are still waiting to learn what will happen to their purchases, such as booths. Riley's email to exhibitors said HIMSS would be in contact in the following weeks with additional logistics details.
"We're not aggressively asking, because we understand how difficult what they're going through is right now," said Paul Wilder, executive director of the CommonWell Health Alliance, which had been planning to exhibit as part of the conference's interoperability showcase. "It's a very difficult decision to cancel something like this."
There's also a financial loss from purchases made "peripheral" to the conference, such as from booking travel and shipping materials to Florida, said Balaji Ramadoss, founder and CEO of Edgility, a startup that was planning exhibit at HIMSS20.
He said he's still looking forward to HIMSS21, which is slated for March 2021 in Las Vegas, and hopes next year's conference will include some discussions on how attendees used this time to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"This should give all of us in the business of healthcare a sense of purpose," Ramadoss said.
Unsure if a conference is still scheduled? Check out Modern Healthcare's coronavirus event tracker. We'll keep you up to date on the latest cancellations.