Rhapsody Health Solutions Team

HIMSS20 Preview: Trends in Educational Sessions

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Each year I look at the number of educational sessions offered at the HIMSS Global Health Conference and Exhibition with the goal of determining which categories are gaining and losing in popularity. This can be tricky, since the categories change from year to year, but in spite of this challenge there are strong signals in the data.

Categories and Sessions

This year, the number of categories is down from 24 to 18, which follows a pattern observed over the past six years. The category count increases slowly each year and when it becomes unmanageable, the organizers reorganize the educational sessions into fewer categories.

The overall number of sessions has been increasing rapidly year over year. This year there are 681 sessions compared to 427 last year. In fact, the number of sessions has more than tripled since 2015. Meanwhile, the number of conference attendees has held steady at about 42,000 plus or minus 5%. More sessions for the same size audience means smaller sessions, possibly more specifically targeted.

Here is the year-over-year category map:

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Winners and Losers

The category with the most sessions is Health Information Exchange or Interoperability. The numerous IHE Showcase tours and sessions are included in this category, which inflates the score for this category. Those are not what we think of as typical educational sessions, but, even so, if we subtract those sessions from the total, interoperability remains at the top of the list. HIE and Interoperability has been in the top five categories every year since 2017, but this is its first appearance at #1.

Applied Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning and Data and Analytics appear in the list at #4 and #5, respectively, with about 50 sessions each. These two categories are newly separated; last year they were a single category with the unwieldy name of Data Science/Analytics/Clinical And Business Intel, and if they had remained combined they would have been ranked #2 this year. If we follow the category back to 2015, we find that it used to be called Clinical & Business Intelligence. The changing name reflects the field’s evolving focus from interactive reporting to automated discovery of insights.

At #3 on this year’s list is Consumer and Patient Experience, combining a couple of categories from last year.

Leadership, Governance, Or Strategy is #2 this year and seems to be at a high point in its traditionally cyclical pattern.

Social, Psychosocial, and Behavior Determinants of Health would appear to be a loser in this year’s education session rankings, having disappeared after only two years in the curriculum; however, a deeper dive into the data tells a different story. There are still a large number of sessions on the topic, but they appear within other categories, mostly Population Health or Public Health. This reflects an improved understanding and acceptance of social determinants of health (SDoH) as an important factor in health care solutions. The past two years’ educational sessions focused on understanding what social determinants of health are, why they’re valuable, and how they can be applied to various health care problems. This year’s focus is the other way around; now we’re thinking about how to improve our work in various domains by including SDoH.

Personalized Health and Genomics (or some version of that category name) debuted in 2017 and rose to the middle of the list last year; however, this year it has dropped to last place. Has precision medicine entered the trough of disillusionment?


Ranking the educational session categories by the number of sessions is an inexact method of determining popularity. Moreover, it is a lagging indicator of health IT trends, because new concepts take several years to diffuse into the industry, turn into implementation projects, and end up in a HIMSS session. The top categories reflect what practitioners have been working on in the past year.

Flawed and backward-looking though it may be, this methodology can help illuminate some of the hot topics in health IT today:

  • Interoperability, as always (but perhaps more than usual), is on everyone’s mind. Interoperability is not a problem to be solved; it’s the environment in which we function, so there will always be a lot to talk about here.
  • AI and ML have gone on a journey from strictly descriptive (albeit sophisticated) analytics to automated discovery of insights through advanced data science methods.
  • Like interoperability, consumer experience is an evergreen topic.
  • Leadership, governance, and strategy is cycling back to the top of the charts after two years toward the bottom, and I’m not sure what to make of this trend.

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