February 28, 2018

The Good Guide to Surviving HIMSS 2018

Travis Good, MD

Co-founder, CEO & Chief Privacy Officer

HIMSS is my most exhausting week of the year. I think this is my 9th HIMSS. Today, with 40,000+ attendees, it’s a logistical nightmare from start to finish. Everything from transportation to coffee is a challenge. Events go late into the night, and I always seem to have an early coffee or breakfast meeting, so sleep isn’t plentiful. I’m not sure if I prefer Las Vegas to Orlando as the location for HIMSS. Both have pros and cons.

Below is my personal HIMSS survival guide. Hopefully, I can remember these things and keep my sanity next week.

Be patient

When you cram 40,000+ people into any location, even a behemoth Las Vegas hotel and conference center like the Venetian, the trains rarely run on time. Getting a car. Getting to a booth. Getting coffee. They all take way longer than you would expect. It can rattle you if you’re used to things running on a schedule. I’ll give HIMSS credit in that sessions usually do stick to their assigned time slots. It’s everything else that gets off the rails. The best advice is to relax and be patient. You’ll get that car or coffee eventually, and there’s precious little you can do to make it any better. Embrace the chaos and enjoy the spectacle of HIT’s annual Lollapalooza.

Get out of the Venetian

If you don’t have to be at the Venetian for an event at a set place (including booth time), go somewhere else. I’ve probably been to conferences at the Venetian 5-6 times, and it still confuses me how to get around. It’s vast so getting out is a commitment and likely something you’ll want to do at the start (breakfast) or end of the day. Getting out of the Venetian helps me to maintain my sanity and remember there is a real world out there where every conversation you hear isn’t about Epic or FHIR or population health. The one caveat to this is if you’re dead set on mingling and trying to network in the hopes that you hit it off with the anonymous person you meet at the Venetian

Avoid the main entrances

As I wrote above, the Venetian is large, and the bowels are confusing to navigate. If you can find a way to avoid the main ways in or out, you’ll find shorter coffee and drink lines. The worst times for the main arteries into the Venetian are, not surprisingly, around the conference schedules. Attendees tend to follow schedules, especially for exhibit hall opening times and keynotes. If you can, you’re better off going early or late to avoid the rush.

Buffer your time

I’d estimate less than 25% of my scheduled HIMSS meetings, not sessions, start on time. The exhibit hall is massive, so people always underestimate how long they need between meetings. The good part is, everybody at HIMSS knows that HIMSS is challenging so most people expect a certain portion of meetings to start late, get rescheduled, or to not start at all.

Bring a battery backup

The bowels of the Venetian, deep in the exhibit hall and session rooms, have spotty mobile coverage. Couple that with the hordes of people sharing the mobile networks and your phone will eat a lot of battery establishing and re-establishing connections. Wall outlets are popular to combat this. Having a battery backup is super convenient if you want your phone to be on all day.

Bring good shoes

I usually average 15-20k steps a day at HIMSS. I don’t attend many sessions, so I’m on my feet pretty much all day. Comfortable shoes help make this a lot more pleasant.

Take notes

I used to take notes religiously when I wrote for HIStalk because I’d write up daily summaries of the conference each night. As an aside, the people at HIStalk deserve a ton of credit for reporting on HIMSS; it’s a herculean task and makes me feel bad about my HIMSS whining in this post. I still write notes today, and if you see me next week, I’ll have my notebook with me. I take notes on people I meet and market intelligence related to Datica. There’s a lot to see and take in at HIMSS, too much for me to remember without notes.

Get some swag

I usually try to get things for my kids and my wife to reduce my guilt from being away. One of my favorites was touchscreen gloves from Imprivata. I also try to get as many stuffed fish as I can from PilotFish, though they’ve made it harder each year to get multiple fish. Every year there is new and exciting stuff to be had in the HIMSS exhibit hall. Not objective, but if you want the best swag in 2018, stop by the Datica booth (booth 5077) and check out our Yeti cups.

Balance your caffeine intake

HIMSS is like coffee-obsessed Seattle to me in that I always feel over-caffeinated by late morning or early afternoon. When this happens, especially if I’m not hydrating, I feel pretty crappy. My goal this year is to limit my caffeine intake for 2-3 cups a day, which isn’t too far off from my normal caffeine schedule. The Datica booth is going to be stocked with cold brew coffee for our team and those that stop by (booth 5077) so I’m hopeful my willpower overcomes the ease of caffeine access next week.

Keep smiling

I have a lot of friends in HIT and enjoy running into people at HIMSS. It’s the one event each year where I get a chance to bump into specific people. As exhausting as the week is, it’s only really four days (M-Th) so smile and get through it.

I hope to see you at HIMSS! Look for me at the Datica booth, #5077, or on Tuesday, March 6th at 11:00am in the Amazon Booth, #1625, for a talk I’m giving about HITRUST on AWS.

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