Workforce Development

Inside Proposal Selection with the Chair of the Global Conference Education Committee

Two people stand over a table, with rows of colorful books in the background.

HIMSS has opened the Call for Proposals for the 2021 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition general education sessions, which are the core of the conference’s programming. More than 250 sessions will span 17 topic categories, and each proposal is peer reviewed, scored and selected by members of the HIMSS Global Health Conference Education Committee (GHCEC).

RELATED: Subject Matter Experts Invited to Submit Proposals for HIMSS21 General Education Sessions

Dr. Jen Bichel-Findlay, HScD, MN, MPH, has been a member of the GHCEC since July 2018, and she has acted as chair since July 2019. Bichel-Findlay has been employed in the health service industry for more than 45 years in clinical, educative and managerial roles, and she understands how technology and digitization can influence patient outcomes and service delivery efficiency in the complex healthcare environment. Bichel-Findlay offers an inside look at the proposal review and session selection process.

Can you tell us about the education session proposal selection process? How is each proposal chosen for global conference?

The structure

The first thing is it’s really important that we have valid topic categories. We review them annually to make sure the categories are contemporaneous and relevant in a healthcare setting. Technology evolves quite quickly, so what might have been novel and innovative years ago now is standard practice. Obviously, pandemic response wasn’t a category until now. We have to have solid topic categories to entice people to submit a proposal.

The second step is we have to have format categories. Is this presentation best delivered in a 60-minute lecture, a 60-minute essential conversation, a 30-minute spark session, and we have a new one for 2020 and that’s a 30-minute life-changing session. That’s important so the people submitting a proposal can submit it with the right format in mind.

The third step is to have the content level categories. Sometime content is introductory content, some is intermediate, some is advanced.

The final step is we have relevant headings. This is definitely very different to other conferences I’ve been part of reviewing. The beauty of headings is they allow a level playing field for reviewers to judge validity and relevance. So there are certain topics, a title, a brief discussion, learning objectives, a longer description of their topic, the approaches, the challenges and then the conclusions. That helps reviewers assess apples to apples.

It’s important to have all of this back-end setup. I’ve been reviewing for more than 10 years now, and the way HIMSS organizes proposals helps to create a level playing field.

The selection process

The first step in the selection process involves our group of reviewers. Reviewers must apply to HIMSS to be selected, demonstrating knowledge of health information management and systems through substantial experience and qualifications. They must be current in their field. This is critical to ensure the proposals are accurate in their content and applicable to the current healthcare environment.

A group of reviewers is gathered per topic category. Proposals in each topic category are independently reviewed by three reviewers. Reviewers score proposals according to the set of criteria that HIMSS established, which is the value of the content, the timeliness of the content, the appropriateness and quality of the data that the person used to discuss the content, the consistency of the title, the description and the learning objectives, past speaking experience and avoidance of commercial influence.

The three independent reviewers assessing each proposal provide their scores. The next step is a group review, and each reviewer group then meet by conference call along with HIMSS subject matter experts and a member of the Global Health Conference Education Committee. They review the scores, and they discuss the proposals. These meetings are very useful because reviewers come from different backgrounds, and what one person sees as important to recommend, another person might not see as innovative at all. We have lots of robust discussions on those calls.

The last part of the puzzle: The group of reviewers then recommends the top proposals and two or three backups. They go to the GHCEC. In those meetings, proposals are reviewed again. Each review group has a GHCEC member, and that person will lead the discussion. They give a summary and give the group’s recommendations. And we come to a final list.

One excellent thing HIMSS does that I haven’t seen with other conferences is the HIMSS subject matter experts are in the room, including one staff member who reads every single proposal. Thousands of proposals are read by one person, and that one person has an excellent macro-level view of all of the proposals. This person will make sure every session across the topic categories is distinct. This is a really useful part of the review process.

There are 20 people who are asked to be on the GHCEC for a two year term. Every year, half of the members leave the committee and 10 new members join. You always have 10 people who know the process, and you have 10 new people. This is another unique quality about the HIMSS Global Conference. You constantly have fresh eyes looking over these proposals.

When you look at all of this, there are many steps involved. It’s not just blind reviewers reading proposals, scoring them, going in and then the conference organizers pick the top scores. HIMSS is much more thorough, compared to all the other conferences I’ve reviewed. HIMSS does a fantastic job.

How do you ensure the sessions at HIMSS Global Conference stand out from those at other events or conferences?

At every level there is robust discussion. Certainly with the GHCEC, we’re looking for two basic outcomes from the proposals: Is this information new in the healthcare landscape, so would delegates not have heard about this? And, will I be able to use this information when we return to the workplace to change behavior or improve patient outcomes? Those two things are in the back of our minds all the time.

Reviewing past speaking experience is certainly not a component of other conferences I’ve been a reviewer for, and I wish it were. A presenter might know the content really well, but they’re not confident at speaking to audiences. If we see there’s not much experience, we might assign a mentor to that speaker, someone from the GHCEC who will work with that person when they’re developing their slide deck and to give them help along the way.

Another benefit of the HIMSS Global Conference is there’s a variety of session formats. Most other conference I’m involved in only offer two formats, so having a variety of formats allow breadth and depth of content to be conveyed to delegates. My first proposals I sent to HIMSS were both 60-minute presentations. It was such a change to not have to talk fast to get through the content in 15 minutes. I could speak at a normal pace and give lots of examples throughout the presentation.

Lastly, limiting the number of slides a speaker can use is unique to HIMSS, from the experience I’ve had from other conference reviews. Limiting slides reduces the experience of death-by-PowerPoint for the audience. In a good conference, the audience is looking at the speaker and listening to what the speaker has to say. The slides are just anchor points to make sure the audience is going along on the journey with the presenter.

What are some of the key qualities of an exceptional session?

You want the audience to leave the room more confident than when they entered, and they can implement ideas straight away. You want them to leave that session feeling invigorated, energized and eager to tell their peers when they get back to work.

Good sessions improve a skillset in the audience member. From the speaker’s perspective, you want them to feel confident that they presented new information, that they did it in a clear voice with not too many slides, they provided relevant examples, the stuck to the timeframe, they encouraged questions from the delegates, and they invoked lots of discussion in the conference breaks. From both audience and presenter, it’s that feeling of engagement.

How much does the format or delivery method matter for an education session?

I’ve changed my opinion on this issue in the past six months. Previously, I would have said there are definitely items of content that have to be delivered in person, but I would now say that digital delivery capabilities have improved so much in the last few years. Certainly these past months have shown we can actually benefit from digital delivery in a way that wasn’t previously considered. Hybrid conferences are going to be more prevalent in the future.

What advice do you have for someone interested in submitting a proposal for the first time?

There are four main things, from my perspective.

  1. Read all of the HIMSS proposal instructions, and take advantage of the resources. HIMSS offers so many resources to help with writing and presenting. In other conferences, you’re told your submission is successful, and you’re on your own. HIMSS helps people make certain the presentation is the best it can possibly be so there’s a higher quality experience for the audience.
  1. Reach out to a senior colleague and ask if they’d consider reviewing your draft proposal. That will give you confidence in the accuracy and validity of your content, and they’ll guide you on what’s important content and not important content. When you’re passionate about something, you might want to put in everything. A colleague will help peel that back.
  1. Reach out to peers to present your session content. Read out your draft proposal, and that will give you confidence about the level of the content. Volunteers will suggest improvements or areas that need more or less explanation and examples.
  1. Lastly, reach out to friends who have nothing to do with health or health information. Ask them if you can present the session content to them and read out your draft proposal. This will give you confidence in the clarity in the content. If a person who has nothing to do with health information can understand what you’re saying, then you’ve been able to convey the message.
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