I’m one of those weird types who actually enjoys the HIMSS extravaganza—tired feet, information overload, endless hype and all. That’s because if you can get past the bright lights, monumental claims, and sheer bulk of the event, HIMSS assembles thousands of hospital and group practice executives who are actually doing the heavy lifting of the industry when it comes to I.T. Some of them even manage to get speaking opportunities. Hats off to you all.

Many attendees are drawn like moths to the bright lights (bring your sunglasses) of the vast exhibit hall—that endless landscape of vendor booths, vendor booths and more vendor booths. The vendor hall has its own magnetic appeal and while only a few meaningful educational sessions take place there, the hall serves as the heart and soul of the conference in many ways. It becomes this mini-city that is, frankly, great fun to roam. I try to explore every corner—and in New Orleans that entails walking major distances (bring your pedometers).

For me, the booths underscore the magnetism of HIMSS. And my oh my, these booths get mighty big. Our own HDM booth—where we distribute our magazine, sign up new readers, videotape interviews and even give away Vespas—is downright modest compared with many. And don’t kid yourself—for software companies, the size of the booth is supposed to represent the success of the company. Of course, some of the firms bring hundreds of staff to the event so they need someplace to put them. On the HIMSS floor, you will find salespeople, technical people, clinical people, legal people, financial people, marketing people and from time to time, actual CIOs who use actual software in an actual hospital.

Those CIOs must approach the vendor hall with caution. I recall when HIMSS used to color code the conference badges, so that CIOs and provider executives were easily identified. One CIO told me he dared not walk through the exhibit hall because his badge gave him away, and he was constantly being corralled into yet another software demonstration. I know the demos get tiring—Lord knows I’ve endured my fair share. But you have to remember that one person’s boring demo is another person’s business dream of helping out an industry in dire need of connectivity. So hats off to you software guys as well!

But I marvel at the sheer enormity of some of the booths. I’m talking about the double-decker, video-enabled, T1-line supported, plush-carpeted, sushi-supplied, half-acre behemoths that dominate—or attempt to dominate—everyone’s field of vision. Admittedly, I am easily impressed, living as my wife and I do in a 1200 square foot condo with mere DSL connectivity. Heck our unit would fit into the greeting corner of these goliath booths.

I once did a walk-around on the floor with a hospital CIO. I asked him what he thought about these giant booths. He winced. Then he launched into a tirade about the expense of mounting the booths, the expense of the software the company sells, the expense of even attending the conference, and the relative poverty of his own hospital.

There are occupational hazards in the booth business as well. I recall one time conducting an informational interview on the lower level of one of the double-decker booths—for a company whose booth had grown from tiny to large over the years. We were chatting when suddenly, a staff person came up and said, with some urgency, “you all need to vacate immediately!” Puzzled, we all got up and walked away. Turns out the booth was not quite properly anchored—you could see it wobbling and swaying and I hoped no one would be in the line of collapse if gravity prevailed over the nuts, bolts and corner brackets. It did not, but ever since then I have been wary of meetings in the mega booths, particularly on the upper levels.


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