One of our very first blog posts mused about the usefulness of trade shows as places for HIT vendors to invest precious marketing and sales resources. As Mark and I walked about the exhibit floor at the 2010 COACH eHealth conference in Vancouver, we asked vendors why they chose to exhibit at the conference and whether they were getting a good return on their investment. While we are the first to admit that our poll was far from scientific, there were a few general themes that emerged from our conversations:
- Traffic through the exhibit area was quite light. We noted a number vendor representatives catching up on email or other paperwork during what seemed to be frequent lulls in action.
- Many vendors expressed concern that their clients will wonder if they having financial difficulties if they didn’t have a booth. These vendors felt that exhibiting at the conference was a cost of doing in business in Canada.
- Some vendors felt that it was an expression of good corporate citizenship to support the conference by exhibiting.
- A number of vendors indicating that they were cutting back by having small booths.
Not all vendors offered a negative or neutral view. Several vendors were delighted with the quality and number of leads. Others stated they aggressively contacted their clients and prospective clients prior to the show and arranged meetings at their booth.
Based on what I heard, I don’t think that COACH is any imminent danger of losing significant revenues from lack of vendor interest in exhibiting at the annual eHealth conference. However, I do think that they are missing an opportunity to increase revenues and offer greater value to both the vendors and the attendees by making the trade show a more integral part of the overall conference. I have some thoughts on the matter and I am prepared to participate in the organizing committee for next year’s conference.
On Monday, May 30th, Dr. Alan Brookstone and I delivered a presentation entitled “Physician Use of IT: Lessons Learned” at the annual COACH eHealth conference. You can find a copy of the presentation here.
One of the eHealth 2010 sessions that I looked forward to the most was a panel discussion with Dr. David Blumenthal, Director of the U.S. Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT, and Mr. Richard Alvarez, President and CEO, Canada Health Infoway. Both gentlemen have challenging mandates and there is no shortage of “monday morning quarterbacks” analyzing their every decision and parsing their every word.
Alan Gregg, noted pollster and social commentator, moderated the session. For someone who professed to know very little about eHealth, he demonstrated an amazing grasp of the issues. Citing his own research, Mr. Greg offered the following observations:
- Physicians view themselves as independent operators.
- Physicians don’t want bureaucrats dictating what they do.
- Left to their own devices physicians will do nothing to promote EMR/EHR.
- Not clear what eHealth offers a politician. Why should they support it?
- Not a “build it and they will come” proposition. Need to get politicians, patients and physicians to buy-in first.
- eHealth is very much a communication and engagement issue.
Before taking questions from the audience, Mr. Gregg interviewed Dr. Blumenthal and Mr. Alvarez. Some highlights of the conversation with Dr. Blumenthal included:
- “Meaningful use” is a powerful concept with which to measure progress. Dr. Blumenthal stated that “meaningful use” was one way to ensure that technology was making a difference. He further elaborated that “meaningful use” starts with where we want to be with healthcare, not with what we want to do with technology.
- Biggest challenge will be creating interoperability. Felt that adoption will happen in any event, if only because new physicians will bring it to the practice of medicine.
- US is employing a “carrot and stick” approach using financial incentives / penalties through Medicare / Medicaid funding.
- When asked about the business case for eHealth, Dr. Blumenthal cited his personal experience as a primary care physician. He stated that he was initially a reluctant EMR user but became a convert through a series of personal experiences. He shared one of these stories in which an alert generated by the EMR gave him the information he needed to cancel a diagnostic imaging test that he was about to order. Dr. Blumenthal used this personal anecdote to demonstrate that hard cost savings that are possible through immediate access to all relevant patient information.
- Thinks that the Scandinavian countries are perhaps the most advanced with regard to eHealth use and adoption. He noted, however, that these countries are considerably smaller than the US or even Canada and are still struggling with a framework for information exchange.
Highlights of the conversation with Mr. Alvarez included:
- Accomplishments to date include:
- Have put standards in place
- Have defined an eHealth architecture that is used by all jurisdiction
- 300 projects currently underway, most of which are in the implementation stage
- Every province is at a different stage, with some provinces, like Alberta, much further along the path to having a comprehensive EHR in place.
- Have made significant progress in diagnostic imaging and telehealth
- While Infoway could have started with EMRs in physician offices, they did not feel that it was the right approach at the time. Now that other core pieces of the EHR framework are in place, Infoway will be committing a significant portion of the recently received $500M federal government investment in to EMRs and interoperability.
- Mused about the challenges of Canadian federalism and noted that with regard to eHealth, the jurisdictions are more collaborative than they are with respect other aspects of health.
- When asked about the business case for eHealth, Mr. Alvarez indicated that Infoway has systematically examined the benefits and identified on the order of $6B in savings. Recent studies of the benefits of diagnostic imaging and drug information systems have shown savings on the order of $1B each.
- With respect to “meaningful use”, Mr. Alvarez stated that Canada has been “muddling along” with respect to adoption metrics and will be borrowing some ideas from the US in this area.
- Mr. Alvarez challenged the belief that it is “taking so long” to implement eHealth. He noted that the banks took decades to go from computerizing their ledgers to the on-line banking systems that we know today. Mr. Alvarez asserts that eHealth implementation is a 10 to 15 year journey and that Canada is making good progress.
This plenary session was probably one of my favorite events at the conference. I continue to be amazed by Dr. Blumenthal’s leadership and was pleased to see Mr. Alvarez acknowledge that Canada could learn some lessons from the US approach.
I had planned on blogging everyday during the eHeatlh 2010 conference in Vancouver. Unfortunately, early in the conference I developed a nasty chest cold and it was all I could do to get through each day. By the end of the day all I wanted to do was go to bed … blogging, unfortunately, was the last thing on my mind.
After several days of rest and pampering at my in-law’s place near Vernon, BC, I am starting to feel somewhat human again and I have the energy to resume my blogging activities. In my last (and only) blog post on the eHealth conference, I mused as to whether attendance was down over previous years. According to several people with whom I spoke the official attendance figure was just over 1700 people. This figure compares with 1597 in 2009 (Quebec City) and 1700 in 2008 (Vancouver).
While attendance at eHealth 2010 did break the previous attendance record, the increase in attendance over the previous record was modest. For all intents and purposes, attendance at the eHealth conference has been relatively stable for the past few years. A similar attendance trend has been noted for the annual HIMSS conference in the US: 27,855 in 2010, 27,627 in 2009, and 29,100 in 2008. Given the economic climate in both countries and the fallout of the eHealth Ontario scandal in Canada (which started to break in earnest at last year’s eHealth conference), a modest gain over the previous record is perhaps quite an accomplishment.
The annual Canadian eHealth conference offers a wealth of networking and information gathering opportunities for Mark and me. We get to renew old acquaintances, make new friends, and, perhaps most importantly, get a sense of the key issues facing the Canadian eHealth sector.
Although the official attendance figures have not yet been published, many of the people with whom we spoke feel that attendance is down over previous years. Certainly the trade show floor seems less crowded with what appear to be fewer exhibitors and smaller booths.
The opening keynote speaker was Peter Manbridge. While he was highly entertaining and a marvelous storyteller, his speech had little to do with eHealth. Indeed, it seemed to be a highly polished but general purpose presentation designed to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. I was hoping to hear more insights into politics of healthcare and a media perspective on how to pitch eHealth to the media.
The afternoon issues debate plenary was more informative and insightful. I will write more later on some of the key points raised by the panel.
I am now sitting with Mark waiting to hear Dr. David Blumenthal and Richard Alvarez speak. I have been following developments in the US with considerable interest and look forward to hearing what he has to say. More on this session in a later blog post.
The Ontario Chapter of the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) recently announced a new Canadian eHealth conference, with the inaugural conference scheduled to take place this fall (coincidentally my birthday falls on the opening day of the conference). One reason cited for the conference, according to Bob Mcgregor from Diversified Business Communications Canada (event coordinator), is the “strong need in southern Ontario for a healthcare even focused on I.T.”
For many years that COACH annual eHealth conference was THE major Canadian eHealth conference. COACH’s decision to bypass an Ontario venue seems to have frustrated many people and HIMSS Ontario has stepped in to fill the void. With limited travel and professional development budgets, will many healthcare organizations opt to attend one but not both conferences? Will the annual COACH conference lose attendees from central Canada? Do we need two major eHealth conferences in Canada?
“Together with HIMSS, we have identified a strong need in southern Ontario for a healthcare event focused on I.T., said Bob Macgregor, Managing Director of Diversified Business Communications Canada. “And our extensive experience in medical education events will serve the healthcare IT community very well.”