I recently got an email from someone asking me if I knew of practicing doctors that would be at the HIMSS Annual conference in Las Vegas (Or as we affectionately call it, #HIMSS16). I was sadly struggling to find an answer to that question. In fact, as I thought back over my last 6 years at HIMSS conferences I could probably count on my hands and feet how many practicing doctors I’d spent time with at HIMSS.
Consider that HIMSS attendance has exploded over the years and I won’t be surprised if HIMSS attendance passes 50,000 people this year. No doubt I only meet a small subset of the attendees, but there certainly should be more practicing doctors at the event. It’s unfortunate for our industry that they’re not there since their voice is so crucial to the success of healthcare IT.
I’m sure HIMSS has a count of how many doctors (MD or DO) are at the event. However, those numbers are skewed since I know a ton of MDs and DOs who attend HIMSS, but they’re not actually practicing medicine anymore. They’re CMO’s at vendors or startup entrepreneurs or clinical informaticists or something else. Many of them never even practiced medicine after residency. Nothing against these people. Many of them have amazing insight into what’s happening in healthcare. However, they’re not dealing with the day to day realities of practicing medicine.
I understand why many practicing doctors don’t attend HIMSS. It’s hard for them to get away from the office and justify traveling to a conference at their own expense. Plus, HIMSS registrations aren’t cheap. I don’t know why at this point HIMSS doesn’t give practicing doctors a free registration to the conference. Even if they did this, I know some practicing doctors who have attended HIMSS that went away disenfranchised by the disconnect between what they heard at the show and what they experienced in their offices. It’s no surprise why they don’t return to future shows. However, keeping them away isn’t the way to change that disconnect. Having them at the conference is the way to fix the disconnect.
A similar commentary could be applied to patients at HIMSS as well. I’m always a little tentative to say that patients aren’t at HIMSS since all 50,000+ attendees are or have been patients in the health care system. So, patients are at HIMSS. However, there’s a difference between someone who’s been a patient and someone who’s at HIMSS to represent the voice of the patient.
There has been some efforts to include more patients at HIMSS, but it’s still an infinitesimally small number compared to the 50,000 attendees. One solution is for more of us to be more of a patient voice at HIMSS. The other solution is to bring more patients who will be advocates for that voice.
This isn’t to say that HIMSS is a bad event. It’s a great event. It just could be better with more doctors and more patients present. If we can’t bring 50,000 people together and 1300 exhibitors and do some good, then something is really wrong. I’ve seen and written about some of the amazing announcements, initiatives and efforts that have come out of HIMSS. I’m sure we’ll see more of that progress again this year.
Plus, let’s also acknowledge that many of the 1300 HIMSS exhibitors and 50,000+ attendees spend a lot of time working with and consulting with doctors and patients when creating, evaluating and implementing healthcare IT solutions. In some ways a vendor or hospital CIO who’s talked to hundreds of patients or hundreds of doctors represents the voice of the patient and the doctor much better than 1 patient or 1 doctor sharing their own “N of 1” view of what’s happening in healthcare.
The reality of healthcare and health IT is that we’re talking about extremely difficult challenges. That’s why we need everyone in the same boat and paddling in the same direction. HIMSS is that event for healthcare IT in many ways, but could even be more valuable if more doctors and patients were in attendance.