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HIMSS'21 Digital Experience - Day 1

  • Digital Health
  • HIMSS21
  • Healthcare
  • Digital Transformation

HIMSS'21 Digital Experience - Day 1

Posted On: 18 August, 2021
By Arun Pandey


Move over the philosophical question:  

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The new one is -

If your feet aren’t killing you, or you not ‘enjoying’ overpriced conference food, have you really attended HIMSS?

Well, ladies and gentlemen welcome to HIMSS’21 – digital edition!!

In the last eight years, this is the first HIMSS which I am not attending physically. On one hand, I miss the excitement, fun, and all important in person connect with our clients and innovators at the conference. On the other hand, there is advantage of attending your favorite sessions from the comfort of your chair. And yes, my feet aren’t killing me!

While it may be difficult to decide whether digital attendance is preferred or physical, one thing is certain – Yours truly will provide you with a running commentary on HIMSS experience.


How was HIMSS received this year?

HIMSS’20 was cancelled at the last moment. And the pandemic did cast a long shadow on this year’s event as well. HIMSS’21 is a hybrid event with both of physical conference and a digital avatar. While the official attendee numbers are not yet published, but there seem to be around 700+ physical exhibitors.

That is a respectable number in itself. But the reality is a little more nuanced, which is:

  • Going by the feedback from those who are physically attending, there has been very limited physical attendance by senior leadership. Both from Health systems and vendors.
  • There were significant last minute cancellations from big names for example Athena health, Salesforce. Doesn’t help the morale!
  • But a reduced crowd means more chances of valuable conversation. Something which the HIMSS has gone too big crowd has been lamenting about.

So, kind of a mixed bag. But I’m really glad that it happened.

How is HIMSS Digital Experience?

Let’s, first talk about the positives:

  • Interface is really simple to navigate.
  • Sessions once concluded are available on demand in a couple of hours.
  • Audio and video quality are fairly decent.
  • You can schedule meetings and reach out to attendees. So, there is that opportunity of a good random conversation.

On the ‘things to improve’ side:

  • Only a handful of exhibitors have a digital presence on the platform. I don’t understand that what can be done with the few premium exhibitors, can’t be extended to the rest. Don’t think any organization could have refused a chance of a good digital presence. Maybe it is just a sponsorship thing.
  • Digital sessions do not have an option to download a transcript or a presentation PDF
  • The video player is too basic and does not support popular keyboard controls (fwd. few seconds, rewind)


How has the sessions been so far?

Well, like the usual HIMSS conferences, you would enjoy some or not be impressed by others or you will find two topics which you like scheduled at the same time! 

The overall theme seemed to be around of course impact of pandemic, healthcare inequity, use of tech/data .... you get the drift! :-)

Following are my observations / key takeaways from some of the sessions which I attended.

Opening Session - The Year That Shook the World

The opening keynote by HIMSS president Harold Wolf, hit all the right notes about pandemic impact, telehealth, transition to hybrid care models, hope for better future and so on. There were some nice slides too.

There was an interesting narration arc where he talked about value-based care and immediately after that the financial burden on physicians. And you would be forgiven to instinctively scream, sir you know actually …… !! :-)

The round table discussion which followed was pretty engaging. It had an interesting panel mix. Particularly Ateev Mehrotra who shared some compelling insights. Here are some key takeaways from the round table:

  • All large payers have embraced telehealth
  • Telehealth numbers have indeed dropped after the initial surge
  • Issues with payer consistency for re-imbursement and hence the fear of telehealth cliff is real
  • Congress / CMS need to come up with regulatory push to avoid telehealth cliff
  • Convenience is double edged sword. Telehealth can lead to increased utilization. Something which payers fear.
  • Payer concern that telehealth can lead to increased fraud - tele makes it easier
  • Telehealth has enormous value for second opinions. Usually happens across state boundaries. Can be lifesaving!
  • Telehealth also brings to fore healthcare inequities ex. access to smartphone, broadband.


Session: Pandemic Analysis and Path Forward

A very interesting keynote by Northwell CEO Michael Dowling. Some key takeaways:

  • Extraordinary agility displayed by hospitals during Covid. Sometimes configuring workflows on daily basis.
  • Regulations need to be relaxed to promote innovative strategies/operations (ex-adding beds, moving staff etc.)
  • Covid proved beneficial for large integrated hospital systems. (I know some of you might be skeptical of the impact of large systems)
  • Importance of preparing early for crisis ex, supply chain, transportation, central labs)
  • Covid highlighted inequities in healthcare
  • Crisis like covid is global. Focus on how we can work with other countries to anticipate and devise response
  • Surprising he shared seemingly political views on topics including gun violence, immigration, and importance of compromise   


Session: Seeing is Believing – Visualising Value via Data

If you have been working on data visualization, you would have heard most of the discussion. But if not, this talk will be a good introduction. Andy Krackov does a very good job of explaining what we mean by data stories.

  • Dashboard is good when audience knows what measure means
  • But when you want to explain data, that's where the story comes in (it could be multiple images, slides etc.)
  • Find ways of expressing data as an infographic instead of dashboard
  • Don't hesitate for interactivity, including gamification. He had a fun example of letting user guess the prediction and then shock with actual value
  • You could have data, graphs, quotes, text, pictures in same slide to tell a data story
  • Data story telling is important for persuasion and a competitive differentiator

For more insights on HIMSS'21 and a free consulting session, connect with Arun Pandey at -

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