Let’s be candid

BILOXI, Miss.—I was about to post a rant about the PR reps still bugging me about setting up HIMSS meetings just a couple of days before the conference starts, as if I have time left on my schedule to sneak in a couple of hours of sleep, much less write my stories (you know, the stuff that pays for my trip). Then I got an e-mail from open-source software guru Fred Trotter (and yes, I know he doesn’t care for the phrase, “open source”) that he won an auction over at HISTalk to have a chat with Jonathan Bush, the very outspoken and usually highly entertaining CEO of athenahealth. That got me to thinking that I’ve got a theme to blog about: candid chat about health IT.

Trotter asked me—and probably some other bloggers—to link to this post on LinuxMedNews, where he asks readers to suggest questions to pose to Bush. OK, consider it done.

FYI, the Bush bio that Trotter cites is accurate. Athenahealth boss Jonathan S. Bush is indeed a first cousin of the president. (His father, Jonathan J. Bush, is the brother of former President George H.W. Bush). One thing that’s not there is that Bush also is the brother of Billy Bush, co-anchor of celebrity dish-fest “Access Hollywood” and host of the new reality show, “Grease: You’re the One That I Want.” I believe Jonathan Bush also went to high school with Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who, in case you were unaware, is a member of a pretty high-profile family with Democratic leanings.

None of those facts, of course, have any effect on the ability to run a healthcare software company, other than better access to well-heeled investors than most entrepreneurs. I’m not going to suggest any questions for Trotter to ask (OK, fine, he can have Bush call his brother to report the latest on Britney Spears’ meltdown if he wants) because I’m going to one-up Trotter. I’m putting a microphone in front of Bush for a podcast we’re going to record during HIMSS next week. So there!

I can’t give you a firm date for posting the podcast because it’s not the only one I have scheduled. Indeed, my schedule is beyond full at this point. But does that stop the PR people from e-mailing and calling even today to see if I want to meet with their clients? It’s almost as if they believe that what they’re selling is the most important thing going on at the world’s largest health IT conference.

And what earth-shattering news are they trying to sell me on as story fodder? OCR technology. A new vice president at a staffing company. And the pièce de résistance: an Israeli HMO with no U.S. customers cutting a deal with the government of Bulgaria. (Call me when an Israeli company sells something to the Iranian government.)

A voice mail I got about the Bulgaria story one ended with, “Have a good show.” Bad idea.

Yes, the vendor exhibition is a “show.” It’s a big show. It’s a great selling opportunity for the exhibitors and a veritable smorgasbord for anyone shopping for IT. The problem is, I ain’t shopping. For me, the annual HIMSS confab is not a show, but a conference. If I wanted a show, I’d go catch Julio Iglesias tonight and tomorrow at the rebuilt Beau Rivage casino a few miles down the beach from here.

OK, that’s a stretch. I’m actually waiting for the official announcement that The Police will play two dates at Wrigley Field this summer.

I do meet with vendors, this year more than last. I try to stay on top of trends and innovations in the marketplace. But I get my best stories from the users and thought leaders. You know, the speakers and session presenters. I love some of the pre-conference symposia for that very reason. That’s why I make it a rule not to schedule vendor meetings while the educational sessions are going on. I’m planning on cutting out of a vendor luncheon a few minutes early so as not to miss an early-afternoon presentation.

There’s also a good reason why I came down to the Gulf Coast today to follow up on some of the reporting I did last summer on the rebuilding of healthcare infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina. (Mea culpa: I never did put together the podcast I promised. I learned the hard way that editing audio is time-consuming, plus, the recordings weren’t all that great.)

As a bonus, I wasn’t home to receive the “have a good show” call. And it was 80 degrees when I left New Orleans this afternoon for the two-hour drive to Biloxi. It was not 80 degrees when I left my apartment in Chicago at 6:30 this morning. (What am I doing in Biloxi? Chasing stories others are not.)

But I digress.

Last year, I posted some other advice for PR representatives. OK, so it’s actually another unvarnished rant, on the overuse of essentially meaningless buzzwords in press releases. I have to say bravo to this year’s crop of press releases for being more descriptive.

Just so nobody gets the idea I scorn all things PR, here’s some good advice from Schwartz Communications about pitching journalists for HIMSS. Read these tips, learn them, use them.

Also, today is the 27th anniversary of one of the most memorable events of my childhood, not long before my 10th birthday: Team USA’s hockey victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. No, that was not the gold-medal game. The final victory came two days later vs. Finland. Rest in peace, Herb Brooks.

I digress again. It’s my blog and I’ll digress if I want to.