Flying Down to Orlando: The Past, Present, and Future of the HIMSS Conference

March 8, 2024
Looking back to HIMSS 1991—and forward to HIMSS 2024

I’ll be flying to Orlando for HIMSS24 this weekend, and I look forward to participating in the annual conference of the Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society. And yes, this will be my thirty-second HIMSS Conference; and over the past three-plus decades, the massive changes in the HIMSS Conference have reflected the changes in the healthcare information technology sector.

And so much has changed since my first HIMSS Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in 1991. That year, attendance reached 1,800 attendees; the previous year in New Orleans, attendance had reached 1,605. Meanwhile, last year in 2023 at McCormick Place in Chicago, attendance reached about 35,000. The attendance trajectory over the past few decades really has been astonishing.

But the changes we’ve seen at the annual HIMSS Conference far outstrip the element of attendance; indeed, it is fair to say that the experience of attending the HIMSS Conference last year was a totally different experience from what it was in 1990. There have been so many changes along so many dimensions that it’s hard to summarize them. But I’ll begin at the top: with total annual healthcare expenditures in the U.S. expected to rise from the current approximately $4.6 billion to a mindblowing anticipated $7.2 billion by 2031, our entire healthcare system is lurching towards unsustainability.

And to some extent, rising costs are inevitable, as our nation’s population ages dramatically and more and more Americans find themselves living with one or more—often several—chronic diseases, from diabetes to congestive heart failure to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to asthma to coronary artery disease. The challenge there will be to massively leverage population health management and care management strategies and programs to help patients as much “upstream” as possible, massively improving patient outcomes and yes, saving money.

And so that leads to the key: what was different in 2023 from 1991? The directionality. Back in 1991, wandering the exhibit floor, I encountered a kind of broad sense of wandering haze, with vendors reaching out in all sorts of directions, but with no clear policy and payment mandates to provide an overall nationwide and healthcare system-wide direction. And that’s what we absolutely have now. With a rapidly aging population and an intensifying explosion in chronic illness, leaders across the healthcare system know that they must move forward rapidly and in concert to address our exploding, healthcare system-wide crisis. And that is providing everyone with a clear sense of direction, and honestly, helping to frame for everyone what’s needed.

What’s needed? Among other things, top-flight data analytics, including analytics at the level of artificial intelligence and machine learning, to improve diagnostic processes, physician ordering processes, care management processes, and clinical operations processes; as well as all sorts of other tools that can improve both care delivery and the clinical workflows on which clinicians depend. The order of the day, for the foreseeable future? Managing chronic illness as far upstream as possible, tracking health status, care-managing patients to the maximum degree, and helping the leaders of hospitals, medical groups, and integrated health systems to predict their processes and their costs. And all this has been exceptionally clarifying for everyone. Indeed, it was clear to me last year that, in contrast to 1991, there was no mindspace for vendors providing offerings that were vague or not directly on point in terms of providers’ needs in this moment.

And that leads to one additional contrast: I remember what it was like to walk the exhibit floor in 1991, and to meet with vendors in their booths—and oftentimes, to walk away asking myself, “Now what do they actually do???” There was a lot of vagueness and honestly, there was a lot of vaporware. But in the current environment, neither are tolerable to patient care organization leaders; they literally cannot afford to waste time on vendor solutions that either don’t work or don’t address important core issues that they must tackle now.

So, clearly a lot has changed in 33 years! And things continue to change, of course. I so look forward to exploring what the vendors have to offer this year, as well as of course to covering educational and keynote sessions. There is so much to learn and to be aware of now, and that will obviously be true going into the future. So, really: I’m excited to find out what HIMSS24 is like, to hear experts and pioneers discuss the top issues for the healthcare industry, and yes, to find out what the vendors are offering this year, and to watch the industry continue to evolve forward. The fact is that there’s never been a more challenging time to be in healthcare—or a more exciting one.

So, onto HIMSS24—and I’ll be sharing my observations with you after I’ve been able to experience the conference myself. See you there!

 

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