Does HIMSS Serve Practicing Doctors Well?

Posted on March 5, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Take a look around you at HIMSS18 and you will see a lot of different types. Of course, the biggest and flashiest presence will be the hordes of vendor marketing and salespeople. You’ll also run into C-suite and mid-level executives with health systems in hospitals or managing partners of large medical practices, along with a grab bag of consultants, researchers, attorneys and bloggers like myself.

What you seldom see, however — and this has been true for decades — are physicians active in day-to-day medical practice. I’m sure the reasons for this vary, including a reluctance to spend the time and money to attend and questions about the show’s immediate value, but regardless, practicing doctors are sorely underrepresented at the annual HIT blast.

In the past, I might’ve suggested that the reason they aren’t showing up was lack of interest. After all, in the past, most physicians had very little contact with their IT infrastructure. Sure, they interacted with billing and coding systems, and to a lesser extent practice management platforms, but that was about it.

That’s hardly the case today, though. For most doctors, it’s smartphones in the morning, tablets in the afternoon and EMRs all day. What’s more, some practices are integrating connected health monitoring and wearables data to the mix and some are rolling out telemedicine services.  While few doctors have to dig into the guts of these tools, they’re increasingly dependent upon them and in some cases, and hardly function without daily access.

Given the extent to which these tools are ultimately designed to serve clinicians at the point of care, it’s disconcerting how seldom HIMSS attendees seem to put clinicians’ IT challenges front and center.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but my sense is that most of the show is designed to serve health systems CIOs, practice leaders with complex IT needs and to a lesser extent, the influencers that guide sales decisions (such as analyst firms). I’m not saying small-practice doctors get ignored, but from what I’ve seen they don’t get catered to either. In fact, many companies focused on small practices have stopped exhibiting at HIMSS because of this and instead focus on the various medical society conferences.

Sadly, this reflects the larger dynamic in which vendors work to strike deals with senior executives first, putting physician needs largely aside. Rather than seeing to it that the actual end users find the products to be workable, they accept the reality that most cases, non-physicians are calling the shots.

For the benefit of the entire health IT community, I hope that in successive years, HIMSS does far more to attract the 10-doctor and below practices that make up the backbone of the medical community. Letting the deepest pockets in health IT systems dictate everything is simply toxic.