Are you a C-level hospital executive going to HIMSS this year? If so, what should you be asking of vendors while you’re here? Short answer: nothing!

As the CEO or CFO of a hospital, you can pick up the phone any day and get a vendor sales rep and their regional manager to fly out to your hospital on a moments notice, buy you lunch or dinner, and tell you the same things you’ll hear in Orlando, but without laying out thousands for an air ticket and pricey hotel.

They’ll have plenty of time to listen to you, and lots of time to tell you how their company’s product and services might address your needs. So why fly all the way to Orlando to meet them on your nickel?

Want to see a system demo: same thing: they’ll just as gladly fly an entire demo team out to your hospital and put on a dog and pony show for a full day or two, which you can then share with the really important people in making an HIS decision: your end users, the departments who will be stuck with the system after it’s implemented anyway.

After all, who knows more about what kind of EHR and CPOE system will meet your needs than your R.N.s and M.D.s? Rather than flying a bunch of them to HIMSS, make the mountain come to Mohammed!

But isn’t it convenient to see all these system demos at one place back-to-back, like you can at HIMSS? Definitely, if you’re the CIO or I.T. director and are “tire kicking” to see what systems have a decent GUI, learn details about their architecture, check which have all the apps you’re looking for, etc.

But as a COO or CMO, you’re a dangerous target for the sales and marketing extravaganzas on the exhibit floor: most impressive booth, biggest crowd, longest line, most attractive reps, nicest gifts, cutest gimmicks, etc. Imagine how naïve your CIO might be going to an AONE convention to look at nursing systems, or your CNO might be at an RSNA convention to look at PACS?

The health care world has gotten so complex in general, and HIT so challenging in particular, that the only things a C-Suite executive should be doing at HIMSS are:

1. Get Educated – The education sessions at HMSS are the heart of the show for non-I.T. specialists, not vendor booths. Attend as many of the sessions as you can stay awake for, and try to pick those that are given by an expert in the content. Many speakers at HIMSS are amazingly knowledgeable about their topic, and can impart more gems of wisdom in a 1-hour session than you’ll learn at a dozen vendor demos. Try to avoid the “success story” sessions like “How We Achieved Meaningful Use in an Afternoon” – which are usually given by a happy client of vendor X. Instead, go to any session that actually talks about regrets, mistakes and things to avoid, preferably put on by an actual CIO or C-Suite executive with a true story to tell. Some consultants are amazingly knowledgeable about esoteric subjects, like anyone speaking on the recent AMIA position paper on vendor contracts, and these “drill-down” sessions might alone be worth the price of admission.

2. Network – Figure out the color-coded badge scheme, and scrutinize the badges of hospital attendees for anyone of your rank, or your size, or your state, etc., and schmooze with them. Hearing what others have learned from their past experiences is invaluable, and making a friend who you can call or email later to compare notes and progress could be priceless. Have lunch or dinner with a fellow CEO or CFO, rather than a vendor: yes it will cost you a few bucks but the conversation will actually be informative, rather than entertaining. Avoid those badges with a vendors’ color, as you’ll have plenty of time to meet them at your hospital later on their nickel, after your CIO has narrowed the field down to those vendors you should consider. With one exception:

3. Meet Your Vendors – What a ball to step up to the booth of vendor ABC, find an equal C-suite executive of your level (they’re all there, Florida’s warm in February!), and give them an earful about any problems and concerns you have about their system. Sure, compliment them for the parts that went well, but take them to task for the inevitable problems and shortcomings. After, all, you’ll never get them to fly out to your hospital on a moment’s notice to buy you lunch or dinner (unless you’re about to renew your contact!). They’ll just send a low-level “account executive” paid a quota to sell you new apps. But sit with the CEO of your lab system that’s driving your pathologists nuts, or giving and earful to the COO of an HIM coding vendor who’s quoting an arm and a leg for accommodating ICD-10 can be a ball! In the long run, you’re doing them a favor too, as most vendor execs are totally isolated from clients by their sales and service staffs, and rarely get to hear how their products and services are performing in the real world.

4.Relax! – Florida is warm in February, and you probably need a few days away from the madness of the C-suite, so by all means come and enjoy our fabulous Florida winter weather. Just realize the difference between education ad marketing: maximize the former, and minimize the latter.

See you in Orlando!


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