HIMSS pushes 2021 meeting back 5 months: ‘We just felt that March was too much of a risk’

By the time the next HIMSS conference rolls around, 29 months will have passed since the last iteration of the massive health IT show.

The Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society officially announced Friday that it’s pushing HIMSS21 in Las Vegas back by five months, to Aug. 9-13. The show was originally set to kick off in March, but society leaders believed that was too soon, given the COVID-19 pandemic’s current state.

“We just felt that March was too much of a risk,” President and CEO Harold Wolf III told reporters during a July 31 conference call. “We’re hopeful and we believe—talking to many of the epidemiologists and people around us—that we have a very good chance for what, we believe, will be a tremendous celebration, I mean a really joyous reunion if everyone can get back together [in August].”

HIMSS already canceled its 2020 show back in March just days before it commenced, as concerns mounted about the coronavirus pandemic. The decision marked the first time in 58 years that the show, which typically draws more than 40,000 professionals across the globe, did not take place.

Frustrations have followed that announcement, as HIMSS declined to issue full refunds for the 2020 show. Wolf shared Friday that they’re working in tandem with their insurer and hope additional “remedies” can be granted for those left empty-handed.

He emphasized that HIMSS had already absorbed a “tremendous amount of costs” ahead of the show and contractual obligations limited leaders in their response. They did, however, give a 25% partial refund, with 15% going toward HIMSS21 and 10% for 2022. And for universities and startups, they gave back 100%, split between two years. Those actions amounted to more than $7 million “literally coming from our pocket.”

“Our intent, from a remedy standpoint, is that once we are fundamentally resolved on our [insurance] claim—and we know that there are people looking for additional support—it is absolutely our intent to be able to come forward with additional remedies at that time,” Wolf said.

As for HIMSS21, the society said paid registration for March will automatically transfer over to the August date. They plan to offer a robust virtual component for those who still feel unsafe attending. And requirements to social distance and wear masks will depend on the state of the pandemic one year from now, along with whether a vaccine is released.

Wolf closed by thanking attendees for their patience as the society has navigated such trying circumstances.

“I will tell you all in candor, without question, it has been the most challenging and stressful time of my career, and for our entire organization,” he said. “HIMSS puts its heart and soul into getting this environment right for its members and market suppliers, and it was devastatingly hard. But I would say, from my point of view, you just follow the data; you do what’s right. You’ve got to put the safety of your people first and foremost.”