HIMSS Opens First Overseas Office in Geneva

Coinciding with last week's inaugural World of Health IT conference in Geneva, Switzerland, the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) officially launched its first overseas office, to serve Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The office, called HIMSS EMEA, will operate from Brussels, offering educational and professional resources, not attempting to influence any government policy, as HIMSS does in the U.S. It will have a separate governance structure to set strategic direction for European, Middle Eastern, and African members. "It will not be set from Chicago by the HIMSS board," says HIMSS chief executive H. Stephen Lieber.

"Obviously for us to effectively develop educational programs and resources for an audience, we've got to be near that audience," according to Lieber.

"We looked at our mission in terms of advancing healthcare through technology," Lieber says. "And we asked, 'Why are we only focusing on advancing healthcare in the United States?'"

HIMSS selected six "overarching thematic areas" for its initial EMEA educational activities, including: health-IT applications; e-health management; finance and investment; interoperability; legal, ethical, and policy issues; and advanced IT.

HIMSS has installed a German national, Michael Strubin, as executive director of the EMEA office and appointed a six-member council, representative of hospitals, vendors, and professional societies, primarily in Western Europe. Lieber says that up to four more members will be named to provide more geographic and professional diversity.

In addition, HIMSS board member Barry Chaiken, M.D., Boston-based associate chief medical officer of consulting firm BearingPoint, is representing the U.S. organization on the EMEA council.

Of the 20,000 individual members of HIMSS, about 1,500 are from the EMEA regions, and they will be transitioned to the EMEA branch as their memberships come up for renewal. HIMSS EMEA membership initially will be restricted to individuals.

Right now, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom account for about half of the EMEA total. Apart from Israel, Middle Eastern and African nations represent barely 6 percent of total HIMSS EMEA membership.

Lieber and Strubin say that the launch of the Brussels office is not an attempt to usurp the activities of existing European organizations. The World of Health IT, which drew 1,800 people from across the globe, was a joint program of HIMSS, the European Commission's e-health office, and the Geneva-headquartered World Health Organization.

"They bring credibility and research to us that goes beyond Europe," Lieber says of the EC and the WHO. "No one of us could have accomplished this without the other two," Lieber says.

Lieber says that HIMSS will be setting up a global governing council by July 1, 2007, to coordinate international activities, including a foray into the Asia-Pacific market. The first HIMSS AsiaPac Conference & Exhibition, which is being organized with the help of Australian research and publishing group CHIK Services, is set for Singapore in May.

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