What Conferences Do You Attend?

How do you think about health conferences? I’m on my way to the Health 2.0 Conference in California right now. In the last few weeks, several people have asked me about Health 2.0 wanting to know what my thoughts are on it and how it compared to other health tech conferences. I seem to get asked more about Health 2.0 than any other conference. I don’t know why.

I also often get asked by people what conferences I think are the most important each year. It usually goes like this: "If I’m going to attend only one or two conferences this year, what should they be?" It’s a good question, but I don’t think there is one answer. It all depends what you want to get out of the conference. I mostly go to conferences to meet people and network. Conferences are probably the only times that people from health tech from all over the country are together in one place, and that’s valuable. It’s funny because my wife, who only goes to clinical conferences, gets a lot of value from the educational sessions at conferences. Meeting people at conferences is valuable for her, but so are the specific tracks for which she signs up.

I got to thinking about how I categorize and rank conferences, both for myself and in response to questions from other people. Broadly speaking, I put healthcare conferences into the following three buckets, although the lines blur year to year. If you’re a vendor of either services or technology, the categories matter.

Clinical. These are the conferences my wife goes to each year. They include the big specialty association conferences and the specific educational conferences for clinicians (like a cosmetics conference). I don’t go to these conferences, but they are relevant for certain vendors. If you’re building the next social network for cardiologists, attending cardiology conferences makes sense. Also, doctors know and care for patients for a living,  so if you’re trying to do something in healthcare, it’s helpful to see what they are focused on when they go to a conference.

I put RSNA in this bucket, but I think it could probably go in the Industry bucket below. I’ve never been to RSNA so I don’t have a great sense for what it’s about other than that it is radiology and it is insanely well attended.

Industry. These are the conferences the industry puts on and the people working in the industry always attend. The list includes HIMSS, AHIMA, many of the ACO conferences, the big payer conferences, and a host of others. For HIT, HIMSS is the 800-pound gorilla. It has gotten way to big, to the point of almost being unmanageable, but where else can you see all the different vendors and people in the industry? That, coupled with HIStalkapalooza, make HIMSS a can’t-miss.

I haven’t been to any of the other conferences I listed above, but I’ll be at AHIMA next month. I’m speaking at the conference and looking forward to it.

Innovation. I considered calling this "fringe" instead of "innovation" but I don’t think that’s accurate. Many of the conferences in this category have changed over the last few years to now being much more mainstream, or at least including discussions from mainstream industry people. Some are still pretty fringe, but I think the larger systems and players are taking notice and attending. This category includes conferences like Health 2.0, the Connected Health Symposium, the mHealth Summit, the MedCityNews conferences, the RockHealth conferences, and the World Congress mobile and telemed focused conferences.

If I was picking just a couple from this category, it would be Health 2.0 and the mHealth Summit. I like Health 2.0, but that’s mostly because of the crowd it draws and the location (relates to the crowd), not because of the sessions. You can see a lot of startups at Health 2.0, but I’ve been surprised to see many more mainstream systems and payers represented there as well. I personally enjoy watching companies pitch and Health 2.0 seems to have more of that than any of the rest.

The mHealth Summit has gotten massive over the last several years to the point that I barely recognize it from the days when it was actually in DC, not way south in National Harbor. The name "mHealth Summit" is also a bit misleading; even though Qualcomm and AT&T will have the largest booths again this year, there are all sorts of startups and modern technology being showcased that are not mobile at all. And the sessions cover things like "gaming" in addition to mobile.

The other conferences are a lot of fun. One of the things I like about the other conferences in this category is the smaller size. One conference I’ve never been to and can’t figure out why is the Connected Health Symposium put on by Partners in Boston. It seems like a great mix of new thinking and where it fits in our existing system. It’s also coming up fast. Anybody out there attending or been there before?

What conferences do you like in healthcare tech and why? The number of choices seem to grow year after year. And with the size of Epic’s UGM growing each year, I guess you could add that one to the list as well. I’m looking forward to Health 2.0 this week. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.


Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.

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