Why CIOs are skipping HIMSS this year

For many health IT executives, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference provides an opportunity to connect with industry colleagues and potential vendor partners in a setting that encourages the sharing of innovative ideas and best practices. Year after year, HIMSS is one of the biggest and most important industry events. It's considered a "can't miss" show for IT folks.

However, when I talked to members of the FierceHealthIT Editorial Advisory Board in preparation for today's special FierceHealthIT HIMSS preview issue about their plans, quite a few indicated that while they would like to go, they can't.

They simply don't have time.

"Many of the leading healthcare IT leaders in America are not attending HIMSS because 2014 regulatory burdens are overwhelming their day jobs and restricting their ability to travel," Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka, who plans to be at the show for only a few hours, told me. "ICD-10, Meaningful Use Stage 2, the Affordable Care Act and the HIPAA Omnibus Rule have co-opted the entire IT agenda."

Halamka wasn't alone in his assessment. Advisory board member Donna Staton, VP and CIO at Warrenton, Va.-based Fauquier Health, said that in addition to government initiatives, CIOs are also trying to balance consolidation with other hospital systems to ensure long-term viability.

"Shrinking IT budgets continue to be a challenge as the demands for IT service are growing exponentially due to ICD-10, Meaningful Use Stage 2 [and beyond] and the need for increased mobility of workforce and patients," she said

Linda Reed, VP and CIO at Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System, agreed with both, saying that the perfect storm of several federal mandates at once, in addition to her usual workload has proved to be too tall an order for travel plans.

"I was going to attend, but too much came up here to address," she said.

Added Roger Neal, VP and CIO at Duncan (Okla.) Regional Hospital: "Right now, I don't think many of us have time to breathe or eat. Just keeping informed and trying to get things in line absorb about 99 percent of your day."

While the sample size is tiny (six of nine provider CIOs I talked to said they aren't going to HIMSS this year), I'd be willing to bet that many other health IT executives are in the same boat. Even those who plan on attending, like Stephen Stewart--CIO at Mount Pleasant, Iowa-based Henry County Health Center--and Theresa Meadows--Senior VP and CIO at Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas--agree that federal mandates likely will dominate conversation.

"I still see ICD-10 as the sleeping giant in front of us," Stewart said.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 will also be a hot topic, of course. The program has been attacked on multiple fronts. CIOs are calling for a front-end extension and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology recent announced that it will no longer certify electronic health record systems for the incentive program--I'm interested to hear what, if anything, government officials have to say about the incentive program's future.

Between the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's town hall session on Monday, Feb. 24, a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services overview of the EHR incentive program that same day, back-to-back keynote speeches by CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo on Thursday morning and other planned sessions, there will be ample opportunity to address the health IT industry's questions and concerns.

I'm also interested to hear from you. Are federal mandates or other issues keeping you from attending this year's HIMSS? And if you are going, what do you want to hear from the federal government representatives at the conference? - Dan @FierceHealthIT

P.S. If you do plan to attend HIMSS14, be sure to join us for our executive breakfast and roundtable discussion on Harnessing Technology and Data to Enable Accountable Care on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Panelists include Edward Marx, SVP and CIO of Texas Health Resources; Chris Belmont, VP and CIO of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Kaveh Safavi, M.D., Accenture's health industry lead for North America; and Ryan Witt, global managing director, healthcare and pharmaceutical practice at Juniper Networks.