Leaving Las Vegas: HIMSS 2018


Harry Greenspun, M.D.

Chief Medical Officer, Managing Director, Health Solutions

Korn Ferry

March 13, 2018

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As I have done for over a decade, I spent last week in Las Vegas attending the annual HIMSS conference. The largest health IT event of the year, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s meeting brings together over 40,000 users, vendors, entrepreneurs, regulators and others.  Along with educational sessions, an enormous exhibition hall, and innumerable social events, keynote speakers this year ranged from Eric Schmidt to “Magic” Johnson. 


Some things don’t vary too much from year-to-year. I typically get in about 20,000 steps each day, moving from session to session, and meeting to meeting (somehow always at opposite ends of the convention center). Still, every year has its highlights (like the time in Orlando when I got to hold a penguin, or in Atlanta when I operated a military bomb-disposal robot).  Having it in Vegas adds its own special flavor.


What I enjoy most, though, is reconnecting with friends and colleagues, some of whom I’ve worked with for over 20 years. Invariably, we wind up discussing what’s different this year compared to prior years. Sometimes it clear, such as the year when Meaningful Use, the government’s incentive program for hospitals and doctors to adopt electronic medical records, was unveiled. Other times, it’s subtler. A few years ago, there was a shift from organizations trying new things to demonstrating results.  More recently, large technology companies were moving deeper into healthcare.


This year, what seemed evident was how rapidly technology was developing. Data mining, analytics, cloud-based systems, machine learning, and a myriad of other innovations had moved beyond experiments and pilots and were now core to many systems. Sessions on blockchain were overflowing.


What was also evident is that organizations are struggling to keep up. In speaking with countless CIOs, CMOs, CNOs, and other leaders, some shared challenges emerged:


  1. Continuing education and development – Many organizations have cut back on these programs, only to find that their staffs lack sufficient knowledge and skills to evaluate and successfully utilize new systems.

  2. Leadership skills – Technology adoption was once primarily about implementation and change management. Now the need is for cultural transformation and digital transformation, requiring new and more sophisticated leadership.

  3. Organizational structures have remained unchanged, no longer aligned to strategy.  At best they slow progress. At worst, they prevent it.

  4. Innovation is coming from outside of healthcare, so leaders and workforce are, too.  The industry has commonly recruited and promoted from within, so attracting, retaining, and engaging non-healthcare talent is problematic.

  5. Somewhat related to the point above, this also represents an opportunity for diversity and inclusion. With new demands and a broader talent pool to draw from, innovation offers the chance to further embrace and expand diversity.


One of my biggest takeaways navigating through the swarms of people and the gargantuan exhibit hall is that it has become extraordinarily difficult to stay current. Health IT was once the domain of a handful of modest conferences and publications. Now that world has exploded.  HIMSS is enormous, but only the tip of the iceberg which now includes CES, DreamForce, OpenWorld, SXSW, and many other conferences with significant healthcare components.  


Organizations need a thoughtful approach to staying informed about what is happening in the market (and how to inform the market of their needs). In that way, they can chart a path forward and align their people, organization, and rewards.