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Epic's booth at the annual HIMSS Conference tends to be one of the largest attractions at the event.

Epic Systems, the well-known medical records software publisher in Verona, is gearing up to show off its latest tools at its biggest outward-facing event of the year — HIMMS 2018, an annual health care technology conference that organizers say could attract upward of 45,000 people to Las Vegas. 

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s annual conference, a fixture of the health care information and technology industry since 1962, is one of the largest trade shows in any industry in the country.

“It needs to be seen to be be believed,” said Casey Liakos, the president of the Madison health care tech staffing firm Carex Consulting Group. “It’s so large. It’s unbelievable.”

The event, March 5-9, is a nexus for those eager to hone in on industry trends and to jockey for publicity. And while “health care IT” may sound like a staid industry on paper, the conference is anything but: Industry observers and conference attendees describe the event as a spectacle, in particular on the show floor where hundreds of vendors rub elbows.

“You will see, as you walk the show floor, you see magicians. You see ‘booth girls,’ as they call them. You see all kinds of games and novelties,” said Liakos.

“People need to vie for attention,” said John Moore III, the director of operations for Chilmark Research, a health care tech strategy firm in Boston. “They’re going to do anything that’s eye-catching. Because most people, they’re going to go for the brands that they recognize.”

Among those known brands at the conference are GE Healthcare, IBM, Google, Amazon — and, of course, Epic.

Epic, well-established as one of the top electronic medical record vendors in the business, typically has one of the largest setups on the floor. It has a reputation for bringing a slice of its kooky, eclectic campus to the event, with booths laden with local art and quirky themes — last year's booth reportedly featured jungle animals.

“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context of HIMSS. But it’s Epic,” said Moore.

Beyond whimsy, Epic's booth gives conference-goers insights into its latest initiatives and software. In an emailed statement, Epic representatives  they anticipated that “One Virtual System Worldwide,” the company’s overarching initiative for letting clinicians exchange data across health systems, would be this year's big draw. The company plans to make it a centerpiece of their setup.

“We announced it at the end of January and have received great feedback and significant interest as we help the Epic community not only exchange more data, but interact with each other on that data,” wrote Sean Bina, one of Epic’s vice presidents.

Also on display at the conference, wrote Bina, will be examples of the “comprehensive health record” — Epic’s vision for a medical chart that goes beyond traditional record-keeping. Epic’s CHR initiatives include “collecting and sharing social determinants of health across the Epic community, coordinating care for the largest renal disease and long-term care providers, partnering with payers to automate pre-authorization and claims processing, and supporting other key factors to health such as dental and genomics,” wrote Bina.

Another aspect of Epic’s booth that is garnering buzz among industry observers is Sonnet, a scaled-down kit of Epic’s software for smaller, community-focused health care providers. That software will be demoed at the conference.

John Moore, the director of Chilmark Research (and the father of John Moore III), said the software represents a new chapter in Epic’s business model. Major health systems, which have historically been the company’s primary clientele, are more or less spoken for in terms of their medical records provider.

“What’s happening in the market is, at the top end of the market, all the deals that are already there to be had, have been taken,” said Moore. “The EHR vendors are moving downstream to the smaller health care facilities.”

Notably, Epic won't be the only Madison presence at HIMSS: Among the other local health care companies at the conference will be Healthfinch, Redox and Nordic. 

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.