HIMSS does not hold their annual meeting just so providers can be led like lambs to the slaughter for the sole benefit of vendors. This is clearly a two-way street. So, here are some thoughts on how hospitals and other health care providers can work trade shows to their advantage. Health care providers spend considerable time in the vendor selection process – much to the consternation of vendors – so it is likely that a number of trade shows will occur before a contract is signed.

Large annual exhibitions like HIMSS provide a unique opportunity to evaluate vendors and their products. In addition to the usual vaporware demonstrations, vendors will have an assortment of executives, engineers and product managers on hand. People with decision making authority and product experts don’t come to on-site demos – if you want to pick their brains (or twist their arm), you have to either visit their corporate headquarters (one at a time) or arrange to meet with them at shows like HIMSS. Another added benefit of a conference like HIMSS, RSNA, or the ACC, is that you may also be able to get your vendors to pull in experts from their alliance-partners who contribute to the total solution you may be considering.

Here are some suggestions for making the most of vendor tire kicking at HIMSS.

Select a manageable list of vendors with whom you want to meet. If you’re lucky, you will only have 2 to 4 companies you want to meet with. Otherwise, choose who you meet with carefully. Fatigue and befuddlement can set in after your seventh or eight vendor meeting, even if you take careful notes.

The exhibition floor at most shows is open 6 or 7 hours per day or less. Some shows make it relatively easy to meet vendors in their booth before the show opens, so you may be able to lengthen your day a bit. Meet in conference rooms if possible, away from the hubbub and distractions of demo stations.

Prepare a series of specific questions that are important to your overall consideration of vendors. This is your opportunity to ask the “hard questions,” the questions that go beyond what vendors’ field representatives can address.

Schedule meetings with each vendor, and make arrangements for them to provide knowledgeable people for you to meet with. An hour is the typical meeting length, and be sure to leave about a half hour between meetings to traverse the show floor, grab a latte or catch up on voicemail. Be sure to provide your vendors with their questions in advance so they can prepare.

Take notes during each meeting and make sure you stay on task and don’t end up far down some rabbit trail. It’s easy to get distracted, and vendors would like nothing better than to spend your time on what they, the vendor, finds interesting.

Compile your notes from the meeting and share them with your vendor selection committee. The information from these meetings can provide important new data that will help determine vendor finalists, educate the selection committee, and provide insights into how you might want to organize on-site demonstrations or specific questions for your request for proposal (RFP).

Be prepared: pulling all this together will take considerable time. Hospitals can certainly do this themselves or you can outsource the whole thing to a consultant. Besides relieving you of the time required for “herding cats,” a consultant can provide valuable insight into important (and maybe not so obvious) questions to ask your vendors. Many consultants already have contacts and relationships with the kinds of factory personnel you will want to meet.

You can find the rest of the blog posts on getting the most out of HIMSS here.