My HIMSS wish list

2008 had not even started when I got the first e-mail asking for an appointment at the HIMSS conference the last week of February. As I was scrambling to finish stories due Dec. 26, Dec. 31 and Jan. 2 (unbelievable, I know, but it’s a good time to get work done), people wanted to know if I had time for them two months later. The feeling of dread was setting in.

At least a half-dozen additional requests followed the first week of the new year. What to do?

Ordinarily, I start thinking about HIMSS maybe a month ahead of time. But after the scramble for hotel rooms at the 2006 conference in San Diego, I got wise to that. I didn’t have to stay in La Jolla like some people, but I got stuck at an aging Super 8 motel about a mile and a half from the convention center and at least 3 blocks from the nearest conference shuttle stop.

This year, I reserved my hotel room in November, though I still have not booked a flight. I’m hoping to take a mini vacation in Florida after the conference, and a lot of that depends on the schedules of certain friends and relatives who live there. Good thing I live in Chicago, since no less than four airlines have nonstop service to Orlando, so I’m not worried.

More importantly, I have not taken a good look at the conference schedule yet. That’s something I often leave until just a couple of weeks before, which sometimes proves to be a mistake. By that time, the vendors have been hounding me for more than a month and the ones I actually want to meet with may not have the time slots I want.

This year I hope to make much better use of my time there—and make the planning a lot smoother. Thus, I present my HIMSS wish list:

1. It looks as if my focus is going to be on physician practices rather than hospitals, given two major assignments I now have. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I am writing the new, monthly Physician Office Technology Report supplement to Part B News. Readers are managers of office-based practices, mostly in primary care, but many in specialties like cardiology, orthopedics and urology. Obviously HIMSS is fertile ground for IT-related stories of all kinds.

The other major job I have this winter and spring is the July-August issue of Doctor’s Digest, entitled, “Technology for Patient and Practice.” The description on the editorial calendar reads as follows: “Healthcare information technology (IT) solutions offer not only business applications but solutions to help enhance patient care, both at the point of care delivery and beyond. But can applications like web-based patient portals, electronic medical records, telemedicine, clinical decision support and mobile systems deliver on their big promises? Can they truly enhance the patient experience and make the practice run more smoothly? This issue will explore these questions.”

You may recall that I also wrote the January-February 2006 issue of Doctor’s Digest. It really is like writing a book, since I am responsible for five chapters of 6,000 to 7,000 words apiece. My deadline this time around is May 1. That means I have about 14 weeks to crank out all that copy on the subject of IT for physician practices.

HIMSS falls right when I expect to be doing most of my reporting, so I intend to use the conference to knock of many interviews, so there’s a good chance I will have to turn down most requests to meet with enterprise systems vendors.

2. With the exception of the HIMSS press briefing on Monday morning, I do not intend to schedule anything that conflicts with the educational sessions. I tend to get more from hearing the presentations and talking with the presenters after the sessions than I do from walking the exhibit floor. That’s not to say I will avoid the exhibition completely, just that I prefer to schedule meetings at other times. This is why I spend so much time perusing the conference agenda (notice I said “conference” and not “show”) before piecing together my schedule each year.

That said, I do hope to be ready to schedule appointments before the end of January. The bigger the conference gets, the scarcer time slots become for everybody.

3. I will not schedule meetings back-to-back. It usually takes at least 10 minutes to get from one end of the exhibit hall to the other, and that’s if I walk fast. I don’t remember the Orlando layout, but I’m sure it’s a minimum of 15 minutes between the meeting rooms and the far ends of the hall. I learned this the hard way in past years. It’s not good being late to appointments.

4. I need to reassert the fact that I am a journalist first and a blogger second (or third). Several people of late have been under the impression that they were giving me information for this blog. I wish I could work on my own terms all the time, but the fact is that this blog does not pay the bills. I have earned exactly $104.54 since I started putting Google AdSenseads on this site in July 2005. I’m not exactly Matt Drudge.

5. Perhaps most importantly, I need a new pair of walking shoes that can pass for casual-dressy. Last year, I wore a pedometer and clocked at least 12 miles during the conference.