Dispatches from HIMSS19: Walking the floor of the world’s biggest healthcare conference

March 5, 2019

I admit it. I was somewhat taken aback when I stepped inside the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando recently for HIMSS19, the world’s largest gathering of healthcare IT leaders.

Don’t get me wrong: I thought I knew what to expect. Working in PR and marketing, I had previously long-supported our healthcare clients at HIMSS from afar, so I assumed I had a good sense of what it would be like.

After all, I had the press list practically memorized. I reviewed the speakers’ lineup (all 300 of them). I had it all under control, right?

Not exactly.

It was estimated 35,000 people would attend this year’s event, but the first day saw more than 42,000 traversing the more than 1 million square feet of demo space. It was remarkable, but it was also difficult not to be overwhelmed by the sheer size, activity and excitement. It felt like I was at an international airport or attending the Super Bowl.

I spent a good amount of my time inside the “Healthcare of the Future” pavilion, supporting our client, Current, maker of an AI-enabled remote patient monitoring device. Other startups that caught my attention included up-and-comers like Boston’s Orbita Voice, as well as Butterfly iQ, Tricella and Quell. I’m not sure what the final numbers of visitors totaled, but it was dizzying. The Current booth alone had a constant queue of attendees looking to get their hands on their wearable device and ask questions about what vital signs it tracks.

When I did venture outside the comfort (and safety) of the Current booth, it was like wandering around a foreign city for the first time. I was taking in the sights and the sounds, but I confess, I spent a lot of time trying to remember my way back. My special thanks to the Modern Healthcare booth which served as a guide post of sorts.

That was me shouting story ideas every time I passed by. What can I say, I was inspired.  

Big names like IBM Watson and EPIC EMR had booths the size of city blocks. International delegations proudly presented their country’s healthcare technologies as if it were an Olympic event. Some vendors even had mock hospital rooms set up within their booths. One marketing-savvy company routinely had a long line of folks awaiting a demo because of the Peloton treadmill they were giving away - an effective way to show they truly “walk the talk.”

Many booths had baristas on hand for those weary conference-goers in need of an afternoon pick-me-up. Some vendors turned their displays into onsite cocktail parties for those seeking a different type of refreshment. With 1,300-plus vendors, it’s hard to say what the No. 1 giveaway item was, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say it was socks.

Fun, colorful, irresistible socks.

Looking back, I regret secretly scoffing at my marketing and PR peers, even industry pros, who talked breathlessly about the expansiveness of HIMSS. Simply walking the floor is a lot to take in. But make no mistake, I’ll be back - I wouldn’t miss it.

Only next time, I’ll have an assortment of newly acquired socks to replace the ones I wear holes in.

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