HIMSS' mHealth Summit a big draw in D.C.
I had the opportunity to attend the mHealth Summit (@mhealthsummit) (#mhs) in Washington, D.C. last week. Lots of great energy. Exciting new products. Companies of all sizes exhibiting. Many interesting keynotes. I was able to catch up with Rich Scarfo (@richscarfo) who is the director of the mHealth Summit and Vice President of Vendor Events at HIMSS to get some behind the scenes insight to the conference.
Dodge: What prompted HIMSS to buy the mHealth Summit last February?
Scarfo: The mHealth Summit was launched in 2009. I created the event while I was at the Foundation for NIH and at the time, it was a partnership that we developed between NIH and the mHealth Alliance, which is a division of the UN Foundation. After our second year, our focus then and now has always been to continuously evolve the event, so we bring it back each year fresh and bring it to the next level. At the time, I thought that we needed to bring in a missing piece, really the piece that HIMSS delivered. I approached HIMSS in terms of coming on board as the third and final organizing partner and they agreed to do that. We had a really good year working together and leading into the 2011 event, last year, HIMSS offered me a position and I, in accepting that, wanted to see how we could maintain the relationship around the summit and they actually offered to acquire it. When they did that, we were in talks for a while. We wanted to bring the best that HIMSS had to offer but leave the summit untouched in terms of its approach, its relationships and really the personality of the event. I joined the organization in January and worked through the acquisition and that happened at the end of February. They reverted from an organizing partner to the presenting partner, and then the other partners we left in place - NIH, mHealth Alliance and the Foundation for NIH.
Dodge: So those other three partners don’t have an ownership stake?
Scarfo: No. They’re just organizing partners and it’s now owned by HIMSS. It was formerly owned by the Foundation for NIH and it was an in-total sort of acquisition. The team that worked with me at FNIH has all joined at HIMSS here as well. So after the acquisition completed, the team transferred over. We thought that was really important for a couple of reasons. One is continuity. Two is really the familiarity with the clients, the topic and all the other partners.
Dodge: Can you give us an overview of this year’s conference?
Scarfo: The growth for the event has been pretty staggering from the beginning. Just to give you a snapshot, 2009 was our first event. We had 800 attendees and about 15 tabletop displays and 30 poster presentations. Year two we saw the potential moving this beyond focusing on just the mobile phone in the developing world, which was really the focus going into the first year. We felt so much more happening—people were hungry for this networking opportunity. We saw all different sectors represented at the event, so we came back in 2010 with a totally retooled event. Attendance jumped to 2,500 and we had about 180 exhibiting companies, all in small booths. Our program went from a general session program into general session plus concurrents and a series of keynotes. Leading into last year, which was when HIMSS joined as an organizing partner, we jumped to about 3,000 attendees and about 220 exhibiting companies. The difference there is that they moved into larger booths, not that that is key to success but it showed the importance of the event to companies that they were putting more into it. We also jumped to about 100 different sessions and keynotes. This year, coming into the event, our focus has really been in growing the event in a thoughtful way. Because, at the end of the day, the number of attendees is not as important as having the right attendees. We did see significant growth, though. We reached about 4,050 attendees. We had 300 exhibiting companies in booths as well as themed pavilions and we had about 150 members of the press of all different types at the event. We retooled our program, so we had a series of five keynotes, eight corporate spotlights and about 90 sessions divided into three key areas. The first was global health, which was our inaugural track this year. The second was clinical research, which NIH drove the development of that whole area. The third, or general, part of our program was driven by both the program committee as well as by mHIMSS.
Dodge: What would you say were the key takeaways you saw this year?
Scarfo: I think the key takeaways this year is that we have parts of the industry that are further along than others. There’s still a lot to learn, there is still a lot to share. An event like this offers really a unique platform in order to do this. Thinking about some of the key areas: consumerization, personalization and scalability were really three very key themes throughout the event. Another really important part of this event, given that we had attendees from 56 different countries, which is pretty amazing for an event like this, is that there is a lot to learn from the developing world. They are using mHealth in a way that is born out of necessity and a lot of times, you get really innovative approaches that we’re learning from. The other key theme was really about patient empowerment. Consumers have to take charge in order for this to work. There’s technological connectivity and there’s patient engagement. Both of those together will help raise the quality of care and help reduce costs. I think in the things I just stated, you see a lot of key themes that were really at top-of-mind at the event. You have the other side of things, like devices that are smaller and faster, and improved user interface and things like that—device neutrality in terms of approaching, capturing and disseminating data. Another key area for the event really focused around privacy, security and policy issues, and the barriers that we face and the opportunities that are also ahead. We had also this year a very large presence from the payer community. We had a keynote from the CEO of Aetna, but we had sponsors that cover United Health groups, Signa and Aetna. That was really a nice change for this year because they touch a lot of people. They can help drive a lot of things. I think they see this really as a way of efficiently communicating with their members, but also promoting different incentives and not just cost incentives, but health incentives and moving the whole space along from the consumer side. I think some other key things were bridging the gap between the patient and the provider. I think the last one—data—was really a key thing. What we saw is that it moved beyond data collection into data analyzation. We’re taking all of the things that were in our mindset at the beginning and we’re seeing all of this evolve and mature and improve. I think that’s what’s very exciting about mHealth. It’s fast-moving, and it’s real time. It is connecting not only different sectors, but different pieces of the puzzle in a way that we have not seen in a while in terms of healthcare.
Dodge: Do you have any early expectations for next year’s conference?
Scarfo: Again, going back to what I mentioned earlier, for us, walking away from a successful conference was fantastic. We immediately have shifted into: how do we take what just happened and improve it and continue to evolve it and make sure the industry comes back next year to something very different? We’re definitely seeing an increase in interest for the exhibit floor. This year was really interesting in that we had not just open booth space, but we saw a lot of the big companies come in this year, like Verizon is our partnering sponsor, but AT&T joined us. Intel was on the floor, new companies like Intermountain Healthcare, T-Mobile and Samsung came in for the first time this year. We also had themed pavilions, which I think worked extremely well for a couple of reasons. It brings small companies to the event, which is very important for us. You have a lot of innovation there. It also takes the attendee sort of on a path through explanation around different things. For next year, we see an expanded exhibit floor, new pavilions, new flagship brands and increased attendance. We’re also going to look at evolving the program significantly based on what we’ve learned this year and what we think will help. The event, even though it’s owned by HIMSS, we call it a summit for a reason. It is a platform for different organizations to use to share their views, their message, their spin on mobile health. We want to bring all that together in one place for attendees and vendors and sponsors to come together and really learn from each other. I think we’ll be back next year with a new, improved, larger event that will be hopefully just as relevant as it has been in the past four years.
Dodge: Are there other ways you would recommend vendors get involved in the HIMSS mHealth initiative that are beyond the summit itself?
Scarfo: The summit is definitely the most visible piece we have in mobile health and we provide all different ways for companies to get involved in that—from small presence all the way up to sponsorship and booths. Beyond that, HIMSS has a lot going on. Our mHIMSS initiative is a membership-based effort under the HIMSS umbrella, and there’s a lot of interesting work being done there. What’s nice about mHIMSS is that it takes all of the best of what HIMSS has to offer and it opens it up to other types of companies that traditionally wouldn’t join HIMSS as a member. We have things like vendor events where we can take a company and work with them to deliver an audience for their own event, a very high-level audience. We’ve done that a lot and that really helps a company gather data and really distribute their message. We’ve got an annual conference also, where mobile is a small but important topic, both in the program and on the floor. I think mHIMSS is probably the best place for the mobile community to be focused outside of the summit. Again, we have the membership but we also have mHIMSS newsletter which has a lot of very interesting topics. We post white papers and original content. Then we also do a whole series of briefings in the mobile space. For companies that are interested in getting involved in mobile, we have the events side of the company content side, where we produce vendor events, and then we have the mHIMSS initiative which is really all content-driven at mhimss.org and then membership based. Certainly with walking away from the event and all that happened there, we’ll be definitely looking at our offering in the mobile space and seeing how we can fill any voids that are currently existing.
Dodge: Anything else that you’d like to add?
Scarfo: Something I’ll leave you with, the one piece of data from the event, we had a record-breaking year in the number of tweets around the event, which was kind of an interesting thing to watch. Over our three-day event, we approached nearly 10,000 original tweets on the hashtag, #MHS12. What was interesting about it is that they were not commercially slanted, it was really a content dialogue, which was fantastic to see and really a testament to the event and why people come there. They come there not just to see things but they come there to learn and share ideas. It’s about one third of what the annual conference does with ten times the audience. One last thought is that on the vendor side, that’s an important community for you. We try to create custom programs at the event for vendors and one of the things we did this year that worked extremely well is that we developed what we called affiliate sessions. If you are a vendor that comes in as a sponsor, we had a whole series of sessions that we developed so United Healthcare gets to do their own session at the event with their own speakers and content. For us, it’s a way to draw the line between our sessions for the audience that we want to remain very balanced. It eliminates the need for companies to try to get on these panels and try to drive their own messaging—we try to separate that. We’ve developed what we called affiliate-branded sessions and that really allows it to come under the heading of the vendor and you can really call it what it is.