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Wellington reimagines health terminology conference

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Wellington has redefined the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation’s (IHTSDO) global event, taking the conference to new levels with a sold-out expo, a hackathon and a surprising new image for its CEO.

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IHTSDO’s SNOMED CT aims to help healthcare professionals save time, money and lives through its universal, codified, clinical terminology system, enabling the clear exchange of health information. For patients and consumers, SNOMED is the technology that enables smart electronic health records and apps.

The 2016 SNOMED CT Expo was held in collaboration with the New Zealand Ministry of Health, and Wellington was a fitting host for an event aiming to bring together the greatest minds in health terminology to discuss the global language of healthcare. As Don Sweete, chief executive of IHTSDO, notes: “We look at New Zealand as having the potential to be the showcase country for SNOMED. There’s a lot of great work that New Zealand is doing.”

Local organiser Alastair Kenworthy, manager of Investment & Planning at the Ministry of Health’s Technology & Digital Services, agrees.

“We have a developing digital health programme in New Zealand and an appetite for innovation,” he says. “The opportunity arose to host the SNOMED Expo after successful events in Europe and America, and we grabbed it with both hands. Not only is it a prestigious event to hold, it helps our local SNOMED implementation efforts, getting it into hospitals and primary care, and getting more locals involved and understanding what it is.”

The event was two years in the making. Following a successful pitch to the organising committee, IHTSDO’s London-based event organiser and Denmark-based CEO were flown to Wellington for a site visit under Tourism New Zealand’s Conference Assistance Programme.

“We had not previously been aware of that support, and it was terrific,” says Kenworthy. “As well as bid assistance, Tourism New Zealand funding allowed us to set up an event website – the first time IHTSDO had one for their event.”

The expo itself was a sell-out, exceeding expectations. It attracted 370 clinical and health IT professionals from 23 countries to Wellington from October 23-28.

The programme kicked off with a welcome ceremony and cocktail evening at parliamentary building The Beehive, hosted by Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne. A traditional Maori powhiri (welcome) onto the marae (meeting house) at main venue Te Papa Tongarewa was one of the highlights for a number of the overseas delegates, Kenworthy says.

The meeting spaces at Te Papa, The Museum of New Zealand, hosted keynote speeches from Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman, Director-General of Health Chai Chuah and the internationally renowned Dr John Halamka from the US, along with four content streams well-supported by overseas presenters and delegates and the local health sector. A sold-out exhibition space helped create a ‘buzzing exhibition village’ between presentations.

For the first-time ever, a hackathon was incorporated into proceedings, with support from local company Hack Miramar. ‘SNApp’ proved very popular, with 30 participants vying to design and build a personal medicines management app using SNOMED CT for a share of US$5000 prize money. The winner produced an app that has since seen commercial interest in its further development.

A fun-filled gala dinner at Te Papa included a presentation by the special effects and make-up team from Weta Workshop, home of the movie magic effects behind The Lord of The Rings trilogy. “They turned the CEO into a dwarf! He looked a lot like Gimli – that spread quickly on the internet!” Kenworthy says.

Sweete says they were “very, very” gratified with the turnout and enthusiasm of everyone involved.

“The highlight of the whole week was not one thing, it was many things,” he says. “Obviously it’s the warm welcome from the New Zealand organisers and the people from Wellington. The business meetings themselves had lots of progress, we had our first hackathon, and people seemed to be really, really excited about being here. The speakers all had great ideas and they certainly put forward real examples of how SNOMED can make a difference in people’s lives and bettering the patient experience. For the first time ever, it’s not a conference, it’s actually an event, so we would like to thank the New Zealand organisers for helping us move to the next level.”

One initial challenge had been attracting people from long-haul destinations to come to Wellington, but that was overcome with local support.

“Tourism New Zealand and Business Events Wellington helped to get the numbers from okay to sold out,” Kenworthy says. “We were really grateful to them for helping with delegate marketing, offering inducements and using social media in a way to create momentum. Business Events Wellington put on a Weta Cave evening event, as well as driving up registrations by offering a VIP Weta Workshop Experience for two, worth $2000, if delegates registered before a certain date.

“People said how much they enjoyed being here. As well as the quality SNOMED CT component, it was the chance to visit New Zealand and the opportunity to extend their stay. They remarked on the quality of Te Papa as a venue; the catering, AV, wi-fi. They were surprised the venue was inside our national museum, and during breaks took the time to explore Te Papa itself. Plus, there is so much to do in nearby Taranaki Wharf and Courtenay Place, and the central Wellington location and proximity to hotels and restaurants was appreciated by delegates. We feel we have raised the bar on what can be done.”

Liara Tutina, customer relations executive Asia Pacific at IHTSDO and co-chair of the expo, agrees.

“Wellington has been an amazing experience for everybody and we were very impressed with the number of people who were able to attend the conference in a region that is as wide and as geographically spread as the Asia-Pacific,” Tutina says. “We hope to be back in future years. In fact, some of our colleagues have indicated they would like to come back in a couple of years’ time!”

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  • Published: 8 months ago on December 16, 2016
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  • Last Modified: December 16, 2016 @ 2:41 pm
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