- Major health tech conference HIMSS20 has been canceled over public health concerns following the spread of a new coronavirus throughout the U.S.
- "Cancellation is unavoidable in order to meet HIMSS' obligation to protect the health and safety of the global HIMSS community," conference organizers told vendors Thursday.
- It is the first time in almost six decades the annual conference, which draws tens of thousands of attendees from around the world, has been called off.
The news comes days after it was announced President Donald Trump would speak at the annual conference, which drew some 45,000 attendees last year and is health IT's largest event. HIMSS plans to work with the White House to share the content of Trump's planned remarks, which insiders believe will be publication of the sweeping final HHS rules prohibiting information blocking.
The build-up to this year's HIMSS, which was still scheduled to proceed as recently as Wednesday night, has now been derailed by concerns over the coronavirus. The meeting was scheduled to begin Monday, but some in industry called upon organizers to cancel or postpone the event as three individuals in Florida were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Eleven people nationwide have died from the disease thus far.
"We go hour by hour," spokesperson Karen Groppe told reporters Wednesday.
Many exhibitors pulled out prior to the conference's cancelation, citing public health concerns and worries over the wellbeing of their employees. Confirmed pull-outs include heavy hitters Microsoft Google Cloud, Amazon's AWS cloud business, Salesforce, Uber Health, Lyft, Intel and Cisco. Humana, Change Healthcare, Siemens Healthineers and HL7 also dropped out or scaled back their attendance.
HIMSS took precautions to lower the potential for virus transmission in the 7-million-square-foot Orange County Convention Center, including three onsite medical clinics (one just for attendees with flu-like symptoms), an increased number of hand sanitation sites and access to telemedicine services.
The conference also said it was working with a panel of third-party medical experts to determine the viability of the event.
"We recognize all the hard work that so many have put into preparing for their presentations and panels that accompany every HIMSS conference," HIMSS CEO said in a statement. "Based on evaluation of evolving circumstances and coordination with an external advisory panel of medical professionals to support evidence-based decision making, it is clear that it would be an unacceptable risk to bring so many thousands of people together in Orlando next week."
Moves by several high-profile conferences also factored into the Thursday decision, conference organizers said.
Shoptalk, a major retail conference scheduled for later this month with some 8,000 attendees, said Thursday it planned to postpone until mid-September. Several other large industry conferences that have also canceled in-person events include Expo West in Anaheim, California and Seafood Expo in Boston, Massachusetts.
South by Southwest in Austin, which attracted 417,000 attendees last year, plans to go forward, despite the withdrawal of some big participants including Facebook, Intel and Twitter, as of Thursday afternoon.
However, HIMSS attracted targeted criticism, given its scale and its topic: health.
"There are concerns about disproportionate risk to the healthcare system given the unique medical profile of Global Conference attendees and the consequences of potentially displacing healthcare workers during a critical time, as well as stressing the local health systems were there to be an adverse event," organizers said.
HIMSS is working with hotels to address potential reimbursement, and will release more information on that, along with potential paid attendee and exhibitor badge and booth space refunds, within the next two weeks.