Under new management, and under the cloud of the Change hack, HIMSS24 kicks off in Orlando next week

One of the largest health IT conferences, HIMSS24, will kick off in Orlando on Monday as a revamped trade show following a deal with Informa Markets last fall.

In August, London-based Informa Markets struck a deal with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) to acquire the HIMSS conference and trade show.

But, will the ongoing impacts from the Change Healthcare cyberattack, revealed two weeks ago, cast a shadow on the health IT conference?

Many health IT leaders anticipate the Change hack will be a big topic of discussion at the conference and predict some executive pullback as CIOs and other leaders continue to address the disruptions to revenue cycle operations. 

"While attending ViVE, the full gravity of the attack was not yet built into the networking discussions and the sessions. Now, I expect it will be a top topic for nearly every attendee and vendor in some way," said Erik Pupo, director of commercial health IT advisory at consulting company Guidehouse, referencing the ViVE digital health conference that took place in late February in Los Angeles.

"Now, it's becoming more pervasive, this may lead to a shift of CIOs and other execs who may not be able to attend the whole time due to meetings, ongoing fire drills and continued efforts in areas like revenue cycle IT to deal with the fallout," he noted.

He added, "I would expect, though, that the majority will maintain their plans and just shorten the total time attending."

A "refreshed" HIMSS conference, organizers say

As part of the acquisition deal in August, Informa Markets, a division of business-to-business publishing and events company Informa PLC, took on management of the HIMSS Exhibition, while HIMSS continued to oversee developing expert content and programming.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

At the time, the organizations said about 30 HIMSS conference staff members would move over to Informa as part of the deal.

At HIMSS24, organizers are expecting 30,000 attendees. Last year's conference featured more than 1,100 exhibitors, 300 general education sessions and more than 250 market supplier thought leadership sessions.

Attendees at HIMSS24 can expect a combination of "difference and comfort," noted Hal Wolf, president and CEO of the HIMSS not-for-profit organization.

"You're going to see a very refreshed feeling and a vibrant experience," Wolf said, noting more digital capabilities and a revamped mobile app.

"A number of people at HIMSS moved over to Informa, so the main core of the organization that's actually running the conference is the group that ran a conference before over at HIMSS. They're extraordinarily familiar with what we do, how we do it, the type of content we're seeking and they also know the areas where we'd like to make a change," Wolf said in an interview.

Wolf contends that the collaboration between Informa and HIMSS, with the former running the logistics and HIMSS managing the content and programming, will propel the growth and evolution of the conference.

He pointed to new features to this year's conference including a hosted buyer program for providers, an improved Venture Connect program for startups and founders, and the CXO Experience "wrapped around" the Executive Summit, a program for provider C-suite executives.

Big tech companies also have a growing presence at the HIMSS conference with Amazon Web Services, Oracle—which now owns Cerner—and Microsoft all investing in large booth spaces alongside legacy health IT companies like Epic, athenahealth and eClinicalWorks.

Key executives from Google, Microsoft and Amazon also will be featured speakers during the conference. 

There are program tracks focused on data science, health equity, climate impact, risk and sustainability and workforce issues. A number of federal policy leaders also will be there in Orlando as featured speakers, including Greg Singleton, the Department of Health and Human Services' chief artificial intelligence officer; Aisha Hasan, head of global health IT at Office of the National Coordinator For Health IT (ONC); and Andrea Fletcher, chief digital strategy officer and director of the digital service at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Mandy Cohen, M.D., director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and ONC's Steve Posnack also will discuss public health and health IT.

As conversations around artificial intelligence in healthcare ramp up, AI-focused sessions are a key part of the educational program at HIMSS24 with keynote presentations focused on operational issues and legal and ethical concerns. On Monday, there are pre-conference forums focused on cybersecurity, nursing informatics, behavioral health, virtual care and, not surprisingly, AI in healthcare.

Wolf contends that the conversations around AI are going deeper, and the HIMSS24 program reflects the issues and trends that healthcare executives are exploring as they implement technology like generative AI.

"I think what's different about HIMSS this year is, it's not enough to say, 'Here's the technology, go implement it,' but also that question that we raised last year as well which is really wrapped around this idea of, 'What's the efficacy?' Where is it going? What are the cautions so that we can approach health care in a meaningful and secure way utilizing a new tool. AI is a tool, it is not a target," he noted.

He added, "I think we're going to see a lot of application of artificial intelligence and machine learning at the operational level, so supply chain and taking a look at information that's helping you process quickly around resource utilization."

The Informa-HIMSS deal comes as the conference faces increased competition from new players. HLTH launched its first healthcare conference in Las Vegas in 2018, and that event has rapidly grown. HLTH then partnered with the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) to launch ViVE, a digital health conference, two years ago.

According to Pupo, many health IT executives are attending HLTH, ViVE and HIMSS, in some capacity.

"You see elements of the ViVE experience beginning to enter the new HIMSS show agenda, and I would expect execs to gravitate to that," he noted, citing features like smaller, targeted networking events and discussions on topics of interest such as the hosted buyer program and provider executive lounge.

Pupo has been a HIMSS member for more than 20 years during his career as a healthcare CIO and in his various roles at vendor companies. "I feel it still has a lot of value and I'm intrigued to see what potential changes in the show will bring. I can certainly say that the sheer scope of HIMSS was becoming overwhelming over the last few years and it was becoming too vendor-driven," he noted.

His advice to HIMSS attendees: Use the conference to network and have targeted discussions. "Pick sessions that fill in the gaps of your knowledge. Make it a point to meet with people you haven’t seen in years. Support those in your network who are speaking, doing book signings, or who might be at a career transition. With the way work has become so much more of a hybrid/remote experience, this is also a great chance to get out and meet people. The value alone of being able to relax and chat with people on what they are working on, what they are seeing in the market and what the rest of 2024 will bring for their organization is worth it alone," he said.