HIMSS unmasked: Random observations from Orlando

By Michael J. Cannavo, AuntMinnie.com contributing writer

March 22, 2022 -- It's always interesting seeing how medical imaging is received at a show that mostly focuses on healthcare IT. PACS and enterprise imaging (EIS) companies seemed to have had a stronger presence at last week's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) meeting than in all the years I have been going to the conference.

The PACSman, Mike Cannavo
The PACSman, Mike Cannavo.

Perhaps it's just because we have all been penned up for so long dealing with COVID-19 that we look for any way to get out. After all, Orlando in March isn't a bad choice, especially for Northerners and those in colder climates.

Not having to wear masks was a bonus as well. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will no doubt take credit for the maskless show, but I think it was changing requirements from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that allowed this to happen, as well as HIMSS' vaccination-required policy for all attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. Still, it was nice to rely on my triple dose of vaccines instead of having to wear a mask.

For future Orlando meetings, HIMSS may want to note the timing of spring break; hotel prices at HIMSS 2022 were up 41% from this time last year. That said attendance was good, with the show's estimated 28,000 attendees finally realizing that medical imaging is a key component to an integrated healthcare environment instead of just something radiology wants.

Or perhaps ... who knows. Even without the 100 or so artificial intelligence (AI) companies seen at RSNA 2022 -- just a few medical imaging AI companies were at HIMSS -- the presence of medical imaging globally could not be overlooked.

So why should imaging companies exhibit at HIMSS? The cloud was everywhere at the show and most imaging vendors were there to promote cloud-based solutions. Sadly, few made the distinction between cloud-native and cloud-enabled technology. But truth be known, few knew the distinction even though it is fairly significant.

With IT staffing reductions many -- but not all -- IT departments are looking for ways to manage the increasing clinical systems being implemented. Eliminating much of the hardware and software as well as support that cloud hosting provides is crucial.

That said, there are vendors -- specifically the three major cloud services providers, all of whom were at the show -- who would tell you the sun rises and sets with the cloud and that there are no other solutions you need to consider.

The reality is that the cloud is not the be all and end all that so many make it out to be even though it offers significant advantages for sure. In major metropolitan areas the cloud can be used extensively as a standalone solution. In more outlying areas where wide-area network (WAN) connections are not nearly as robust or cost-effective, a hybrid cloud/on-premises solution is a much better option.

This involves having a minimal amount of redundant hardware onsite in the event the network connection goes down. This has been the topic of intense discussion on online posts, with the answers skewing more regionally specific than global.

Several vendors at HIMSS 2022 showed the integration of various clinical systems -- radiology and cardiology being the two prominent ones -- but digital pathology and even ophthalmology integration were shown by select vendors. This led to discussions about integration versus interfacing -- using a single platform versus cobbling clinical systems together -- but again, even with a sophisticated audience like those attending HIMSS most of that distinction required much further discussion.

Interoperability had its own area at the conference, but most of it dealt with connecting various nonimaging clinical systems to create an operational electronic health record (EHR). Few companies seemed to include medical imaging directly.

Cybersecurity had a huge presence at HIMSS 2022, occupying the entire width of the floor with at least 60 to 70 companies offering a variety of solutions. Thankfully, many of these companies recognized the need for securing imaging systems and not just electronic medical records (EMR) or the EHR since so many of the PACS/EIS vendors leave that to the installed site to address.

Any encryption tends to slow the image display down, so the preventive measures taken need to protect the systems without impacting the system performance. This is especially important in dealing with large image files like those found with digital breast tomosynthesis.

What follows are a few random observations from Orlando:

  • I found it interesting that two of the major PACS/EIS vendors never identified their PACS/EIS products by their given product names, instead choosing to take Universal Studios' "Thing 1" and "Thing 2" approach instead. Weird for sure, but then branding strategies never were either company's strengths.
  • I felt like I was at a funeral seeing employees of one HIMSS exhibitor (whose sale was recently announced), all dressed in black. All that was missing was the dim lights, low organ music, and flowers ... but thankfully, the smells of hot fried donuts from a company just up the aisle a piece brought me out of the melancholy mood.
  • I could comment on the chin protectors so many wore (does anyone know how to wear a face mask properly?) or the bath bombs a few companies were giving away. There is something about the vision of HIMSS attendees after the show running baths in their hotel room to luxuriously soak away the stress of a long day ... with the company laptop on the edge of the tub as they check e-mails, no doubt. Of course, these would be battery-powered laptops as power cords and baths don't mix well.
  • I also love the fact that so many companies at a show that promotes digital technology gave away pens and paper. I don't expect digital tablets to be given away, but ... hot donuts make much more sense, as did the liquor giveaways at the happy hour time. If exhibitors can give away booze at HIMSS, they should be able to do it at other shows (ECR and RSNA, please take note here).
  • HIMSS is moving to Chicago for 2023, so I may have to stake out my claim at McCormick Place and my usual downtown hotel ... IF I go, that is. I have learned a lot of tricks over 30 years of attending RSNA meetings, and I will finally be able to use them. While Orlando is my home and I get to collapse (yes, collapse) in my own bed at the end of the day (I admit it -- I'm getting old) I'll take Chicago over Las Vegas any day.

Michael J. Cannavo is known industry-wide as the PACSman. After several decades as an independent PACS consultant, he worked as both a strategic accounts manager and solutions architect with two major PACS vendors. He has now made it back safely from the dark side and is sharing his observations.

His healthcare consulting services for end users include PACS optimization services, system upgrade and proposal reviews, contract reviews, and other areas. The PACSman is also working with imaging and IT vendors developing market-focused messaging as well as sales training programs. He can be reached at pacsman@ix.netcom.com or by phone at 407-359-0191.

The comments and observations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of AuntMinnie.com.


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