President’s Report AHIMA’s Annual Meeting 2020

For the first time that I am aware of, the AHIMA National Conference was 100% virtual due to the COVID-19 virus.  In my opinion, this had its positive and its negative aspects.

Having the conference be virtual, there was zero travel expenses for the CSA to incur.  This meant that we could afford to send more of our Delegates to attend.  Our Maine CSA can have up to five Delegates attend the AHIMA National Conference for the House of Delegates in order to represent our CSA and vote on behalf of our state association.  This number may fluctuate a little because it is based on the number of members we have.  However, in years past, we have always only sent two.  We send the President and the President-elect. If they cannot attend, we send others in their stead as is stated in the Bylaws.  I feel that being able to send all of our Delegates was a wonderful plus to going virtual.  Not only did our CSA have a greater representation but our Board was able to have a broader education.  We have a Board that represents different aspects of health information management.  Some of us work in HI education, some are more focused on coding and/or reimbursement, some more privacy focused and others more records and/or quality.  Because all of us attended not only the House of Delegates but also the conference, we all were able to attend the educational components that were more geared toward our line of work. 

The other benefit to having this as a virtual conference was that you were not only offered the live seminars, but you were able to attend any of the recorded seminars for several weeks after the conference was over.  I felt this was a substantial value for the cost of the conference.  I was able to watch and re-watch some of the seminars that I felt were of particular interest to me.  The handouts were also still available to me as well.  After each live event, I was able to print my certificate for my CEU.  I did not attempt to do that after the non-live event so I cannot speak to whether or not that was an option.

There were downsides of course.  You don’t get to mingle with other attendees.  There is so much gained from making new contacts with other CSAs.  Not to mention re-connecting with those you haven’t seen since the last conference you attended.  This in-person interaction is priceless and simply can’t be done at a virtual conference.

The vendor experience was also a downside.  I feel that they did the best they could with what they had to work with, but it was just not the same. To go to an actual vendor table and talk to them is a much better experience than to click on a vendor logo and leave an email address.  I think many people just didn’t make the effort.

The experience at the House of Delegates was a bit rocky but it was the first time they had gone through this process.  The virtual voting process was not fine-tuned, and it prolonged the experience far too much.  The fact that there were many time zones to contend with didn’t help the matter.  It was much different than what it would have been like in person.  I’m certain that next year will be much better having had the experience of the prior year.  Having that many people on a virtual call that needs an opportunity to comment on issues prior to voting is not an easy process, I’m sure. 

The last comment I will make could be seen as both a downside and an upside.  I attended this conference from home.  I’m sure others may have chosen to watch the conference from their office.  Wherever the location, there would have been a great deal of sitting in one place.  Honestly, I don’t see too much of a difference in how this would have been done if you were attending the conference in person.  When you are attending a seminar, you are sitting during the seminar.  If you feel the need to get up, generally speaking, you don’t.  However, the option is there for you to do so should you feel the need.  Watching the virtual conference from home or from the office, you have more freedom to sit, stand, use the facility (with no line), get the food and beverage of your choice, and walk around and stretch (even during the seminar if you can still pay attention).  I found this to be a much more free and enjoyable experience for me.  What I found to be distracting was the constant chat messages during the time the speakers were talking.  During a normal seminar, we make the announcement to please keep the sidebar conversations to a minimum so as not to distract others from the speaker.  During a virtual seminar, this is not done.  The chat is almost constant.  I found myself having to choose between turning off the chat and risk missing key information about the subject matter that was being shared between participants or being distracted by the chats and risk missing something the speaker was saying.  I’m sure this was just a “me” thing and was not an issue for others.  But this was something I saw as a downside.

They have announced that the AHIMA 2021 conference is going to be virtual again.  I, for one, see this as a very positive thing.  Do I want this to be virtual forever?  Absolutely not.  However, I would like to see AHIMA offer a choice.  You can either attend virtually or you can attend in person.  This would give the CSAs an opportunity to send more of their Delegates if money is a factor.

I think overall, they did a wonderful job with the virtual conference and I’m sure they will only make improvements for the 2021 conference.  If you are able to attend, this would be money well spent on your education considering that you not only get to see the live conference but you also get to have access to it after for several weeks.

Respectfully submitted,

Elizabeth L. Sheridan, RHIT


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