Yes America, infrastructure matters. Many HIMSS attendees no longer like the city, in large part because of infrastructure. The East Bank of New Orleans, including the convention center, had no drinkable water for parts of three days during the show. The center’s wireless connectivity was abysmal. The aged airport, run by leaders devoid of pride, can’t stock soap, towels, seat covers, toilet paper and plungers in the rest rooms, but can charge $14.21 for a small sub and chocolate milk. The convention center is big enough for HIMSS, but nothing else is. The city has too few hotels, restaurants and cabs, and cabbies routinely ignore the mandate to accept card payments. And you never really feel safe.

Federal officials need better vetting of their HIMSS presentations. Attendees flock to these sessions seeking new information and guidance, and maybe to get the ear of a policymaker. But the first 40 minutes of a 90-minute town hall with officials of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology was spent on staff introductions. Forty minutes. The room was emptying by then. Leaders of the HHS Office for Civil Rights’ privacy division, in a session billed as an update on forthcoming random HIPAA audits, spent a couple of minutes noting that pilot audits were completed and a formal audit program was coming at some point, and spent 51 more minutes giving a history of the privacy office.

HIMSS needs better vetting of some signage, which will happen at any large convention. But the shuttle schedules should be clear. If shuttle bus service starts at 6:15 a.m. with a run every 30 minutes, does that mean the next bus is at 6:45? No, it was at 7 am and other buses came on the half-hour and hour, or not at all. A lot of attendees were housed in Metairie about 10 miles from the convention center, and they spent a lot of money on cabs or rental cars to avoid missing meetings.

Okay, enough grousing. There was plenty to like at HIMSS. Many sessions were scheduled in a large wing, so having to move literally from one end of the convention center to the other several times a day wasn’t as big an issue as it normally is. The press and interview rooms were quite adequate. It was easier than a typical HIMSS to find vendors on the exhibit floor. President Clinton’s determination to leave the world better than he found it came through clearly during his keynote, and explains why he is so popular. And it always is wonderful to spend time with colleagues and old friends.

For all the ills of the health care system and all the frustrations dealing with payment issues, anyone could be forgiven for not have warm fuzzy feelings about the industry.  But when you talk to those working in provider settings, their passion and commitment to patients and a belief that they are doing good work in their time on Earth is evident. They are special people doing special work, and that’s the best part of HIMSS.

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