What I learned at HIMSS this year

I’ve been going to trade shows for years. It’s part of the job. Big halls, noise, vendors, booths, bad cell service, endless networking, and very little sleep. I know the routine. Correction — I knew the routine. Without a doubt, HIMSS is in a category of it’s own. Setting aside for a second the scale (which is massive), what struck me most was the sheer breadth of offerings, ideas, and technologies all focused on improving patient experience and outcomes from every conceivable angle. The experience was truly both exhilirating and humbling. So now I’m left with the impossible task of summing an amazing week into a few cogent points that stood out in my mind. Here goes nothing…

Healthcare is a community

Everyone tells you this, but you don’t realize just how tightly knit a massive group of committed individuals can be until you see it up close. Many of the people I met have spent their entire careers in one healthcare segment or another. The passion they have for their work and the investment in time and energy that they put into doing it well is truly inspiring. The other thing I noticed is how generous people were with their time in conversations. The typical tradeshow dialog lasts a couple minutes tops and seldom goes beyond the surface. As someone who loves talking to customers and using their input to improve my products, I’ve always found this frustrating. HIMSS attendees certainly did not disappoint. The average conversation I had with people inquiring about ClearDATA at our booth was easily 20 minutes and went well beyond our “pitch”. The discussions were interactive and thought provoking and nobody seemed in a rush to move on to the next booth. These weren’t people who were interested in grabbing vendor swag for their kids — they were genuinely interested in us and our products and wanted to discuss their use case and our solution in depth and I was only too happy to be part of the conversation.

Healthcare firms want to get out of the datacenter business (too)

This isn’t a big realization for me. I’ve been helping customers to shed their on premises infrastrcutre for years. What surprised me is how much this flies in the face of the stereotype that healthcare as a whole is behind the times on technology trends. There are pockets to be sure, but there are plenty of CIOs out there who are forward thinking and see their in house datacenters as cost centers that slow them down and require constant maintenance and ongoing investment to keep running, secure, and compliant.

Healthcare ISVs get it

By and large, the first wave of moving things like EMRs, practice management solutions, and other software out from under a desk and into the cloud was only partially successful. The goal of getting out from under managing on-premises hardware was a good one, but the approach never fully realized it’s promise because it just moved the problem. You still have infrastrcutre to manage, patch, update, and monitor — it’s just running with a cloud provider now rather than in the office or clinic. You still have to maintain those environments — either by investing in people to do so manually, or by investing in developing automation to do so. The problem: neither of those are your core business. Neither of those investments are increasing your rate of innovation or delivering new value to your customers. You’re continuing to pivot resources and dollars away from innovation and customer success to care for infrastructure.

This brings me to my final big takeaway from HIMSS — Healthcare ISVs get it. The number of people I spoke to that explained exactly the journey I described above was staggering. And in nearly every case each had come to the conclusion that their future was not in more monolithic infrastructure. Their future was SaaS. The challenge of course is that understanding where you want to go doesn’t mean you know how to get there. The path can be treacherous and challenging and requires new thinking. And that was my big takeaway — this isn’t news to most of the folks I had the pleasure of speaking with. They are approaching this journey with open eyes and lean thinking. They know that having a partner that can deliver secure automated infrastructure and monitor their compliance posture will let them focus on their product and their customer and reduce distraction. They know that safeguarding their customers’ PHI is critical to their business, their customers, and patients. They know that their goal is to drive improved outcomes, not to build secure configuration management and infrastructure automation tools. They know all of this, and they are looking for the right partner to go on this journey with them.

They get it.