No meeting up with old friends. No visiting booths and seeing cutting-edge technology in person. No ability to completely remove myself from the reaches of the daily workload. I sat on my couch and wondered: Is this virtual conference idea really going to work?

I chatted with some colleagues, many of whom shared the same reservations. We all agreed on one thing: we were going to go “all in” with no prejudice. We were committing 100%, and would be as engaged as possible.

The morning of CHIME Day 1 started as always, with my coffee. I went in fully caffeinated and ready to engage. I began in the virtual lounge where I looked for familiar names (instead of faces) and said my hellos. From there, I moved on to the partner suites and interacted with other foundation partners. I was able to chat live with colleagues and was even able to open a Zoom call and see my friend Drex DeFord, a healthcare IT guru in his own right. I was off to a great start.

Then it was on to the virtual sessions. The stage was set with the opening keynote from Judy, Howard and Don—industry-leading executives from Epic, MEDITECH and Cerner respectively. While they each have a very different style and personality, it was glaringly obvious that they all fully appreciate their responsibility as it relates to utilizing technology to improve patient safety and wellbeing.

Of course, there were the expected technical issues that have become the norm with these virtual events, but the content and the ability to interact with live chat features and Q&A sessions made for a very immersive experience. I continued with my day visiting the virtual suites and stopping in the virtual lounge, and even ended the day playing some virtual blackjack with my new friends from laboratory workflow and data solution provider ELLKAY.

Day 2 started a bit differently, as a few of us decided to take to our Peloton’s #PeloCHIME for a morning ride where we had a friendly competition, chased each other on the leader board, and gave each other early-morning high-fives. CHIME’s own CIO Jonathon Fritz, of course, led the pack. I think his bike might be rigged—he smoked us all. It was a bit different than meeting up for dinner, but certainly better on the waistline.

As the sessions started, I found more cameras on and more friendly faces. I found myself NOT distracted by the daily workload I’m usually entrenched in, and was fully in-tune and involved with the conference. Virtual conference interactive tools have come such a long way in a very short period of time. A few of us started a live-text thread and kept the chatter going throughout the day’s talks. It was not the same as sitting next to someone in the same room or at the same table, but it sure felt like I was not attending alone from my desk at home—that sense of community was still there.

After two days of sessions, I looked at my pages and pages of notes and found some recurring themes: the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry in which we proudly serve; a desire for improved workflows, processes, and access to care; and the acceleration of a digital strategy. It’s at conferences such as these that change and innovation gain momentum.

So how do we keep the momentum going? How do we take what we’ve learned and continue to grow? What does it all mean for the future? These are all questions that we have been tackling for many years, but in this last year they have really thrown healthcare into the spotlight.

I thought back to the keynotes, and one theme struck me as obvious: as a whole, we can be proud of how we responded to the pandemic. While we may not have been fully prepared from a technology perspective, as healthcare technology leaders we are trained to pivot and solve the unexpected. We can’t always predict what the future holds, so we need to be as flexible as possible while maintaining a strong foundation. We also need to continue to pay close attention to the patient room of the future. How do we ensure that these points of care will be ideal for the next crisis? How do we ensure that patient “rooms” and the appropriate supporting technologies are inclusive of how and where patients will need care, which may not simply be in a hospital facility? I am excited about the patient room of the future and the role we will all play in its development.

Cloud continues to be a front-and-center discussion now that we have accelerated momentum. We started the conversation so many years ago in healthcare—so many people had questions and concerns, and while they were not quite ready to begin the cloud journey, many began to dip their toes in the water. This past year, the necessity to move to a remote workforce and maintain accessibility to critical care systems tested environments so profoundly that many of us are now naturally looking at cloud and cloud options in terms of what’s next. We heard from representatives of Microsoft, Amazon and Google, all of whom shared their companies’ vision of the future state of care and how they intend to support it. My takeaway? Cloud is a necessity and its role in our industry is inevitable.

The cloud players are all vested in building their platforms with the consumer at the focus, and for us, that means the patient. We will continue to watch the development of cloud technologies and in what direction all the leading players will go.

Conferences are certainly different in this virtual world, but there are ways to make them fun and interactive. It is likely we will see both virtual and in-person components at events like these for the foreseeable future. How do you make the virtual experience a personal success? I have three suggestions:

  • Commit to the time off.
  • Give the event the same attention you would if you were going to be there in person.
  • Actively interact as part of the community during the session.

I had a great CHIME21 Spring Forum seeing old friends, making new ones, and learning so much. Thank you CHIME for kicking off the year with a great first event. I am looking forward to June and cannot wait until we are all together IN PERSON in October.