HIMSS11 Advice From a Veteran

Neil Versel
Guest Columnist

I always offer two pieces of advice for anyone attending a HIMSS conference for the first time:.

1. Wear comfortable shoes. I cannot stress this enough. There will be more than 900 vendors, spread across 380,000 square feet of exhibit space in the Orange County Convention Center. A few years back, I wore a pedometer and clocked at least 12 miles of walking during the five days of HIMSS in New Orleans..

2.Never schedule back-to-back meetings in different locations. The same explanation applies, and the exhibit hall does not count as the same location. Good luck getting from, say, the 8300 row to the 600 row in less than 10 minutes. Give yourself at least 15 minutes between meetings on the show floor and a good half hour if you’re going between the exhibit hall and a meeting room.

Those two rules should apply to any HIMSS attendee. As a veteran of nine HIMSS conferences (HIMSS11 is my 10th consecutive), I’ve learned a lot over the years and gotten smarter about my planning.

If you haven’t already made your travel reservations, don’t fret. There are lots of flights into the tourist trap known as Orlando, and also plenty of hotel rooms. Many of the “official” HIMSS hotels have been sold out for months, but don’t forget to look at nearby properties that may not be on the HIMSS list. I found a room earlier in January within walking distance of the convention center for less than $75 a night, breakfast and Wi-Fi included. Do check the map, though. There are some hotels right across the expressway from the convention center, but you have to take a roundabout route to cross the highway. Google Maps told me to allow nearly an hour to walk it.

That’s the thing about the Orange County Convention Center. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, particularly if you don’t want to rent a car and pay for parking. I stayed at the Caribe Royale for a previous HIMSS in Orlando. It’s a nice place, but the 6-mile trip on the conference shuttle buses took as long as 45 minutes during peak times. You don’t want that.

There are some decent hotels along International Drive that either are near an “official” HIMSS hotel and thus convenient to a shuttle route or close to the I-Ride Trolley that stops at the convention center.

A lot of people refer to HIMSS as a “show.” (Call me cranky, but I personally hate when people tell me, “Have a good show.”) Yes, it’s the world’s largest health IT trade show, but HIMSS is more than just a vendor bazaar. There are more than 300 education sessions, including a few full- and half-day symposia on the weekend before the official Monday opening.

At the very least, make a point of getting to one of the keynote sessions. This year’s program includes HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, national health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and actor Michael J. Fox, who presumably will be speaking about the role IT can play in Parkinson’s disease research.

If you can, save Monday night for the many, many vendor parties taking place at restaurants and clubs in the vicinity. (Some smart vendors plan events for Tuesday, just to spread things out.) Do make some time for fun because otherwise you’ll get burned out. I always say by the third day that I’m ready either for a hot tub or a straitjacket. Usually I just look forward to getting home, kicking off my comfortable, well-worn shoes and sleeping in the next day.