Leaving Las Vegas: 5 Takeaways from HIMSS18

March 9, 2018

The big health IT conference has finished. What did this editor learn from the annual show?

Another year, another HIMSS in the books.

For the 7th time, I'm leaving the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference feeling tired, educated, excited, and oh yes, tired. While Las Vegas, the site of this year's conference, has never been my favorite city to visit, it was an honor to have covered this conference yet again for the fine readers of Physicians Practice.

Getting to see old friends, connect with new ones, learn a lot of emerging and establishing technologies, sit in on various educational sessions, and walk the impressive exhibit floor - there is nothing quite like it. With the desert dust settled and the last chips cleared off the table, here are my five major takeaways of this year' show.

1. Cameos from Washington

The biggest surprise of the show was the unannounced cameo by Jared Kushner, the senior advisor and son in law of President Trump and the head of the Office of American Innovation. Kushner and CMS Administrator Seema Verma came to Vegas to promote the idea of an interoperable health system, open application programming interface (API) technology, and better patient data access. If the administration wanted our attention, they got it with this move. A lot happened during this show, but this session had everyone buzzing from beginning to end.

2.A Hodgepodge of Themes

When you get 43,857 registered attendees, a long list of exhibitors, and hundreds of education sessions (not to mention everything else HIMSS offers) together, you're going to get a lot of voices. It's hard to come away with a singular theme and this year’s HIMSS conference certainly felt that way. There were people talking about open APIs, blockchain, population health, AI, patient data access, cloud, EHR-related physician burnout, the switch to value-based care, data security, and even opioids. More than ever, the HIMSS conference felt bigger than a singular idea.

3. Market-based System

Where was Gordon Gekko when you need him? Maybe people weren't saying, "Greed is good," but there seems to be an overarching mentality in the new administration that the free market will solve the  health care pricing problem. This was never clearer than at a session with leaders from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). This attitude, to me, permeated throughout the entire conference. Government intervention in health care has long been the boogeyman and this year, there seemed to be less of a focus on the Quality Payment Program, Meaningful Use, or any major health care regulation. I guess it was appropriate that the conference was in Vegas!

4.More Bells and Whistles

As this conference has grown, there seems to be more and more efforts to grab people's attention by any means possible. I saw a Star Wars booth, magic shows, pool tables, carnival barkers, casino games on the exhibit floor, people dressed up as actual “clouds,” and much, much more. Many companies will make 10 to 15 announcements at the show. The booths, accoutrements, and overall mentality has gotten flashier and more aggressive over the years, symbolizing the growth of this conference and the health IT industry. Sometimes you forget this is about patient care.  

5. What's Next?

In this regard, I almost wonder what's going to be next. How will HIMSS19 top HIMSS18? With companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google (two of these guys had a booth) entering the health care space, will this conference (and industry) continue to balloon? Or will there be a market correction? Will the Venetian Sands Expo be enough to hold this conference when it returns to Vegas or will it head to the much bigger Las Vegas Convention Center? We shall see!

Follow Gabriel Perna on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna