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Sage x HIMSS 2023: Back to Chicago and Back to Basics

By Dan D'Orazio, CEO, Sage Growth Partners | April 25, 2023

We spent last week at HIMSS, the General Hospital of Trade Shows, where one can expect to encounter a little bit of everything. From bed pans to AI specialization, cybersecurity and interoperability to patient engagement and next-generation care management, one runs into a zillion subject matter experts down every hallway.

While the crowds seemed thick, we were also very aware that our return to Chicago meant a return to the conference’s early days, when attendance was compact enough to fit within the dense Windy City. Gone are the days of giant set-ups, big buses, and frenetic crowds. As one astute colleague said: “This isn’t like years past where there were two-story booths and jazzy race cars.”

Indeed, HIMSS ’23 was dominated by a sense of moderation – of keeping marketing budgets in check and growth trajectories conservative. Perhaps every company is testing the air a bit, blinking in the new light of these first few conferences where it truly feels that the pandemic is behind us.

Oddly enough, the event itself experienced some of healthcare’s interoperability challenges – perhaps it was sympathy pains. The Wi-Fi was down, cell reception was disrupted, and many of us were unable to send text messages. I’m not sure if this was due to issues with the McCormick Center, or if it was any fault of the HIMSS event itself; either way, it seems like a black eye for one of the industry’s leading HIT events. A reminder to many of us innovators that here in healthcare, reality reigns – we still have to shore up our basics.

As per usual, the event delivered on expectations; its B2B focus held strong. My diagnostic check came in the form of conversational tallies. Each time I spoke with someone new, I was always sure to ask: how are your prospect and lead tallies looking? Alas, for most, leads were very hard to come by. Yet, no one seemed too disappointed; the consensus was that this event is for meeting and greeting, light touch exploratory conversations, and of course, an excuse to roll out the big signs to earn some coveted brand awareness within the sea of point solutions.

So where were all the prospects hiding? They were on the panels and in sessions, sharing their voices and soaking up insights from peers. Kudos to the event’s programming team; the vendor booths were left feeling a little lonely. One vendor I spoke with was prepared for such an eventuality and had adjusted her game plan accordingly – she mapped her schedule each day according to the key events. It was her mission to meet key panelists as sessions ended, just as prospects spilled out of the meeting rooms. Her goal was simple: make enough of a memorable introduction to plant a seed, thereby increasing the odds of a follow-up email open or a LinkedIn connect post-show.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, conjecture around one new technology was robust: we were all abuzz about ChatGPT. Of course, these are early days and there is much still to understand. But in a way the transformative potential already feels much more real than other trendy tech we’ve been focused on for years: Big Data, AI, Meaningful – or, more cruelly, “Meaningless” – Use and more.

Future applications abound and seem to imply expedited healthcare advances in a way we’ve never seen. Care navigation and seamless transitions, spurring healthcare education and literacy, advancing health equity, standardizing care protocols – the use cases are limitless. But, of course it all seems a little scary when the singular Elon Musk is the one saying we should slow down and apply caution. It all makes you feel a bit queasy…

Overall, despite all the change-ups and conference attendance question marks, this year’s HIMSS was still not to be missed. The general feeling on the floor was: “I may not know who is here, but I will certainly know who isn’t.” Bottom line: if you’re not here, your competitors will surely take notice. Paranoia or practical? Only time will tell.

I did leave energized, feeling full after some thought-provoking conversations with some exciting new companies – upstarts and giants alike. Sure, sometimes we were looking out the windows, either for bars of cell service, or daydreaming about something different. Are specialty shows where it’s at? Those focused niche events may be more fruitful for certain vendors looking to make a bigger impact and to leave with a longer prospect list. But for now, if HIMSS is not the singular healthcare event to attend, it still feels like a powerful convergence of healthcare’s best and brightest.

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