Jimmy Buffett sings “I wish lunch could last forever.” Call me crazy, but I sort of feel that way about HIMSS. Despite being completely exhausted, I felt sad leaving Orlando. Unlike many, I actually like trade shows, especially HIMSS.

Oh sure, I remember from my vendor days the sheer boredom of working the exhibition booth during those really, really slow times. Or the stress of having booth duty while trying to get a deal done back home. (Of course, it always seems to be the especially important or tricky deals that need your urgent attention while you’re chained to a booth with a smile on your face!)

But even then, I liked trade shows overall. Besides seeing old friends and former
co-workers, it’s great to just feel the buzz--the excitement of the exhibit hall, the sharing of ideas in the educational sessions and symposia, and the general camaraderie of the attendees.

During waking moments on the flight home, I reflected on what I had seen and heard the previous few days. I decided that HIMSS is the willing convergence of altruism and capitalism.

Some people, the altruists, come to HIMSS to learn, teach, or discuss ways to improve our health care system. They want to provide better patient care, reduce inefficiencies in clinical workflows and administrative procedures, and somehow suppress the rising tide of health care costs. Granted, this year the altruists are a bit out of their element, with all the HITECH dollar chasing, but you still know where their hearts lie.

Other HIMSS-goers gravitate toward applying their competitive instincts to health care. To them, this isn’t just about devising the best solution to health care’s most vexing problems. It’s about doing so in a way that can be easily understood and adopted, and economically produced, distributed, and supported, while also producing a return on investment. For some of these capitalists, it’s as much about winning the game as it is about the money.

I saw stark examples from each camp, and they were equally enjoyable to watch.

As usual, I started the conference at the increasingly popular Venture Fair. With its largest crowd yet at 226 attendees, this all-day event gave early stage entrepreneurs and HIT investors ample opportunity to mix it up. Executives presented their companies’ stories, discussion panels provided counsel about accessing capital and other resources, and there was plenty of time for networking.

Over lunch, a panel of three of the federal government’s highest ranking HIT officials gave witty, animated presentations aimed at convincing the entrepreneurs that the feds want to be their partners in stimulating and supporting innovation in HIT. Clearly a highlight of the day.

Two days later I had the privilege of moderating an educational session about how an integrated health care network is pursuing a vision of complete clinical integration. The take-away message from the health system’s CEO was that success depended upon the commitment of all stakeholders. Indeed the effort must be physician-led, driven by the belief that clinical integration will ultimately enable them to provide better patient care. He emphatically warned the audience not to do it for the money, but to do it because it’s the right thing to do. In this age of meaningful use, that was a refreshing message.

Fascinating stuff. And that was from only two of the hundreds of formal and thousands of informal interactions between these HIMSS-goers, these altruists and capitalists. I didn’t want to leave.

Las Vegas, anyone?

Jim Gibson has been in health care for over 25 years. In 2002 he founded Gibson Consultants after several years in healthcare IT and group health insurance. Gibson Consultants is a national search firm specializing in healthcare IT companies.


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