Just days away from the start of its annual conference, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) announced on 5 March that the meeting in Orlando, Florida, would be canceled due to concerns about the novel coronavirus.
In a message posted on its website, HIMSS said that recent reports on the coronavirus outbreak from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made it necessary to cancel the show, scheduled for 9-13 March.
"We recognize all the hard work that so many have put into preparing for their presentations and panels that accompany every HIMSS conference," stated Hal Wolf, president and CEO of HIMSS. "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."
With the announcement, HIMSS is perhaps bowing to the inevitable. A number of other medical conferences have already announced cancellations or postponements, the most prominent of which was the European Congress of Radiology (ECR), scheduled for 11-15 March in Vienna. The organizers of ECR 2020, the European Society of Radiology, announced on 3 March that the show would be moved to July. A number of other smaller meetings also have announced cancellations.
But HIMSS 2020 is by far the largest conference to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak, with some 45,000 attendees. In the days leading up to the announcement, a number of vendors had announced that they were pulling out of the exhibition, including Siemens Healthineers, Visage Imaging, Change Healthcare, Dell Technologies, and Butterfly Network.
HIMSS had formed an external advisory panel to assess the risk presented by the coronavirus to meeting attendees. They concluded that "industry understanding of the potential reach of the virus has changed significantly in the last 24 hours, which has made it impossible to accurately assess risk."
Another consideration was the risk to the healthcare system given the "unique medical profile" of HIMSS attendees traveling to Florida from around the world 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."
This is the first time in the 58 years of the HIMSS conference that the event has been canceled, the society noted.
"It is now clear that cancellation is unavoidable in order to meet HIMSS' obligation to protect the health and safety of the global HIMSS community, employees, and local residents, as well as for the healthcare providers tasked with keeping our U.S. and global communities healthy," the organization concluded.