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Analysis

Coronavirus Won't Knock Out HIMSS 20; Trump to Speak

By Mandy Roth  
   March 02, 2020

The Orlando conference, which expects 45,000 attendees, will proceed as planned; precautions will be taken to mitigate risk.

Editor's note: HIMSS 20 has been canceled due to concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus. Click here for the updated story.

Despite concerns about coronavirus and the pullout of some significant exhibitors, the show will go on as planned for HIMSS 20, the annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) being held in Orlando March 9–13, where President Donald Trump will speak next Monday.

During a press briefing on March 2, HIMSS Senior Director of Strategic Communications Karen Groppe confirmed that HIMSS 20 "will proceed as scheduled." In addition, she tweeted Tuesday that "HIMSS20 is a go."

Yet some aren't so eager to risk potential exposure to coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19, by traveling to the annual gathering of healthcare IT professionals, which is expected to attract 45,000 attendees from around the world. Yesterday, CNBC reported that exhibitors Salesforce, Intel, Cisco, and Amazon have pulled out of the conference.

In addition, HIMSS has been criticized by observers urging the organization to cancel or postpone the event, with at least a couple pointing out that many attendees will leave the conference and return to work in healthcare settings. The CDC says symptoms may appear 2‒14 days after exposure "based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses."

Others have voiced support for hosting the annual conference, including a tweet by Robert Gergely, MD, @rgergely, who said, "No need to cancel registration. Don't fall into the #COVID19 hysteria and panic." At the time of this article posting, only 72 people had signed a Change.org online petition to cancel HIMSS 20.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, March 9. Although the topic has not been confirmed, he is likely to address interoperability, a subject that federal government officials have spoken about during previous HIMSS conferences.

During HIMSS 19, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released two proposed interoperability rulings, designed to give patients access to information that resides inside their electronic health records (EHR) and take advantage of new tools that could expand their care and treatment options. Two years ago, senior Trump advisor Jared Kushner spoke at HIMSS 18 about this same topic.

On February 19, National Coordinator Don Rucker, MD, of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), said the final ruling on one of those proposals, the 21st Century Cures Act: Interoperability, Information Blocking, and the ONC Health IT Certification Program, is "going to be coming out relatively soon." The healthcare IT community has speculated that it could be announced at this year's event.

Rucker, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma, have been invited to present special keynote sessions at HIMSS, but at the time of this posting, Azar and Verma are still listed as "invited to speak" and have not confirmed their appearance. It is not clear whether Trump's presence is related to the topics senior HHS officials may discuss.

Regardless, no one will get the opportunity to shake Trump's hand. According to an email HIMSS issued last week, the meeting will be "handshake-free" to limit the potential spread of coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19.

On Sunday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency in the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed two cases of the virus in Manatee and Hillsborough Counties, which are located southwest of Orlando.

During the press briefing on Monday, Groppe said HIMSS has assembled a medical panel that is collaborating with HIMSS senior leadership, "to help us evaluate the situation and evaluate our on-site preparedness for the coronavirus."  On Tuesday, she declined to name the members of that panel.

Additionally, HIMSS issued an email to conference attendees Tuesday with further information about the coronavirus situation and measures the organization is taking to prevent the spread of the disease.

"Our top priority remains the health and safety of all participants at HIMSS 20, including attendees, exhibitors, market suppliers, staff, industry partners, and others involved in the HIMSS Global Health Conference and Exhibition," the message said.

Among the precautions HIMSS is taking, according to the email:

  • HIMSS is working with Orlando Health and Dr. P. Phillips Hospital to provide extra on-site medical support as needed.
     
  • On-site EMTs and nurses will have screening protocols, and telehealth access to ER physicians will be provided as necessary.
     
  • There will be three on-site medical offices at the Orange County Convention Center. One will be dedicated to addressing both flu and coronavirus symptoms and will be staffed by a trained medical professional with direct access to the Florida Department of Health and an epidemiologist.
     
  • Should screening reveal an elevated risk for an attendee, the person will be isolated immediately to prevent exposure to conference participants.
     
  • Sanitation measures include disinfectant procedures at the conference center that adhere to CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations; an increased number of hand sanitation sites will be available at the convention center and surrounding venues; and disposable, disinfectant wipes will be provided to routinely sanitize commonly used surfaces.

Editor's note: This story has been updated March 4, 2020.

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


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