What Can HIMSS19's New Exhibitors Tell Us About Health IT?

By Chuck Webster, MD, MSIE, MSIS; a HIMSS social media ambassador

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Chuck Webster, MD, MSIE, MSIS

I am personally passionate about healthcare workflow because I am an industrial engineer (industrial engineering is basically a degree in workflow) who went to medical school. For HIMSS conferences, I use workflow to identify what the HIMSS global conference can tell us about trends in health IT.

This year, as a HIMSS19 social media ambassador (for the sixth year in a row!), I'm generalizing and describing my workflow so you can use it too.

Developing a Data Science Workflow

A popular data science workflow is:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Find the data
  3. Explore the data
  4. Tell a story

1. Ask a Question
What can HIMSS19's new exhibitors tell us about health IT?

2. Find the Data
Resource: HIMSS19 New Exhibitor Lists

  1. Create list of new exhibitor URLs; when I created the list in the HIMSS19 Map Your Show there were 140 registered new exhibitors
  2. Use list to create a custom search engine (CSE)

3. Explore the Data

  1. Create a list of search terms based a subset of HIMSS19 topics (optionally, add more based on personal interest)
  2. Search for each search term, possibly including synonyms or related phrases (for example “physician AND physician” and “security AND cybersecurity”)
  3. Rank order by number of pages search returned

For example:

HIMSS19 New Exhibitors Custom Search Engine Hits

Click image to enlarge

4. Tell a Story
Starting in 2012 I’ve searched every HIMSS global conference exhibitor website for workflow-related content. Then I’ve written, spoke and tweeted about it.

The first time I did this it was arduous, taking over a month. Eventually I discovered ways to semi-automate my workflow. One of the techniques is the one I described above. For example, here is my HIMSS17 custom search engine searching all, and only, over a thousand HIMSS17 exhibitors.

Analyzing the Results

So, what about the above results? What did I expect? What surprised me? What pleased me? What displeased me? And why?

I was surprised to see innovation ranked first (both times), even above security. However, on reflection, everyone thinks their product or service is innovative, and are likely to mention it. Speaking of which, what about that highly ranked marketing? If you poke around in the results, you will indeed see lots folks selling products and services to help market health IT products and services.

Revenue ranked highly. Yeah, seems about right… it is a major consideration in every industry.

I am not at all surprised to see security ranked so highly. It is consistent with a past year's worth of headlines and what I saw when I collected the URLs to create the CSE. To do that I briefly visited each exhibitor website to copy its URL. I could not help but notice a large number of exhibitors emphasizing cybersecurity products. Will this trend continue? Or will a subset begin to crowd out some exhibitors. Where does security rank among the rest of HIMSS19 returning exhibitors?

I was glad to see nurses and physicians similarly ranked, since everyone knows that nurses are the workflow engines that make healthcare work flow. If you want to make healthcare more effective, efficient and satisfying, we need to improve their tools.

I am disappointed to see workflow ranked so low. From previous years I know for a fact that workflow (and workflow-related phrases such as orchestration and process) are mentioned on a majority of HIMSS exhibitor websites.

Two explanations occur to me. First, workflow-related content is there, but the search engine isn't returning it (Hmm. Why? It doesn’t think it’s important to me?). Second, many new exhibitors are also new to healthcare. It took healthcare care six or seven years to go from rarely mentioning workflow to talking about workflow a lot. I'd be willing to bet that new exhibitors who return for HIMSS20 will learn from their HIMSS19 experience and beef up their workflow stories between now and then. Will I be correct?

I'm disappointed to see patients ranked so low. Despite attempts to increase the profile of patients at health IT conferences, there still aren't many attending. With all the emphasis on patient experience and engagement, I bet patients climb in the rankings over the next few years. Time will tell!

I am surprised to see blockchain ranked last (during both of my searches). Given it is mentioned so much in trade and social media, I wonder why?

Remaining Questions
In my experience, the best stories are the ones that linger, leaving me with questions. What happened to the lovers after the end of the story? Was that a dream sequence or did it really occur? When DID the detective actually begin to suspect the murderer?

Data science stories should generate lots of questions for further investigation, otherwise they’d kind of be dead ends, right? Each cycle of questioning, searching, exploring and interpreting should generate even more of the same, gradually covering more-and-more related domain terrain, while deepening our knowledge of the domain.

Were there other terms I should have explored? Did I forget a synonym that might have changed the ranking? If we were to create a CSE based on the rest of over a thousand HIMSS19 exhibitors, would the rankings be similar or different? If different, and we repeat this exercise next year, will repeat exhibitors become more like new exhibitors, or the opposite? Why? Are there other relatively simple but potentially valuable data science techniques that could help us answer this question? I wonder what word clouds based on HIMSS19 exhibitor directory descriptions would look like. Would they be consistent or inconsistent with this little exercise?

I hope you'll play around with my CSE based on new HIMSS19 exhibitors. If you are ambitious, create a more up-to-date CSE including late-registering new exhibitors. If you are interested in topics I did not include in my story, submit them to my or your CSE, see how they rank, and weave your own narrative, one perhaps pointing toward even more important follow-on questions.

What can HIMSS19's new exhibitors tell us about health IT? In my opinion, we can learn a lot about the questions we should be asking ourselves about our industry.

Regardless, I'll be listening on the #HIMSS19 hashtags!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.


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