HIMSS Lessons on Risk

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Last year’s HIMSS Global Health Conference and Exhibition drew 43,000 attendees from all over the world.

Though planners of the 2020 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition announced less than a week out that they were canceling their annual meeting for the first time in 58 years, there’s a lot to learn about managing risk from their experience.

HIMSS would have brought tens of thousands of attendees from all over the world to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. The organizers had gone so far as to arrange for President Trump to be a keynote speaker and had invited all the Democratic candidates to speak at the conference “to ensure the healthcare community is well informed on the policies that are critical to the future of healthcare innovation in the U.S.”

In the end, it was the continuously changing landscape that tipped the scales for organizers, as Elli Riley, senior director of exhibitor and meeting services at HIMSS, explained in a letter announcing the cancellation to exhibitors: “Made apparent by recent reports from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus continues to spread globally and the situation is so dynamic that each day brings a new development.”

Nonetheless, being a healthcare industry conference, there’s much to learn from HIMSS and the wide range of measures they had put in place to mitigate attendees’ risk. These included:

  • Attendees were told not travel to the conference if they were feeling unwell.
  • All conference hotels were given given guidelines on healthy procedures and tips. Attendees checking in would have received printed copies of safety measures.
  • The association called for a “handshake-free” meeting, recommending the “HIMSS elbow tap” instead.
  • The convention center planned to use a disinfectant cleaning procedure twice a day during move-in and throughout conference, following the World Health Organization (WHO) coronavirus sanitation guidelines.
  • An increased number of hand sanitation sites at the convention center and surrounding HIMSS venues were being made available, as well as disposable, disinfectant wipes that can be used for frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards and presentation materials.

HIMSS’ plan to manage medical emergencies

  • Three medical offices were to be located within the convention center, one  dedicated to addressing both flu and coronavirus symptoms and staffed by a trained medical professional with direct access to the Florida Department of Health and an epidemiologist.
  • Screening procedures established by the CDC were to be conducted on site throughout the conference. If screening revealed an elevated risk for an attendee, “the person would be isolated immediately to prevent exposure to conference participants,” according to the association.
  • HIMSS and the Orange County Convention Center would consult health teams at the local hospital systems when necessary. Telehealth access to ER physicians would also be available as necessary.

HIMSS’ 2019 Global Health Conference and Exhibition drew more than 43,000 attendees from around the world.

For WHO guidelines specifically for event organizers, click here.

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