Healthcare Computing - the event explained

By Sheila Bullas and Nettie de Glanville

Healthcare Computing (HC) is an event that attracts up to 1,100 conference delegates and around 3,000 visitors to its exhibition each year. Continuous improvement to meet the changing needs of those delegates and visitors means that next year, at HC2008, we will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the event.

Most readers will know of HC and probably have been to the event. We often receive questions and come across misunderstandings about who runs the event and for what purpose. This article aims to clarify this and encourage you to have your say about the event. 

HC comprises a conference organised and run by BCS Health Informatics Forum (BCSHIF) in partnership with an exhibition organised and run by BJHC Limited.

The two organisations have an agreement to run the conferences and exhibitions concurrently at a mutually agreed time and place. For a number of years this has been March and in Harrogate, and has provided many with a congenial and effective opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones, as well as catching up on or presenting new developments in health informatics.

The beginning

The series commenced with an event called 'Current Perspectives in Health Computing', held in Birmingham, UK, in March 1984. Nearly 100 people with common interests got together to hear presentations. A few tables at the back of the room provided demonstrations on PCs of some leading-edge work that was being undertaken in the NHS.

In 1984, the topics that concerned health informaticians tended to be the use of computer technology and information systems to support the management and delivery of care in a variety of sectors, for example the acute hospitals, general practice, the community, the back office, and regional areas.

Even in these early days there were three papers looking at clinical records systems, three papers on decision support, and three more looking at the future. Topics of concern to the 1984 delegates included data modelling, approaches to application development, the electronic exchange of clinical information, and the harnessing of operational data to provide regional and national health planning information.

While the topics may be similar, health informatics and HC have come a long way since 1984.

Event's aims

HC aims to stimulate the further development of the science of health informatics by providing an annual meeting place in which knowledge is exchanged, problems and possible solutions are discussed and where new ideas and products can be seen.

The event's original name 'Current Perspectives in Healthcare Computing' is still very much at the heart of its aims and objectives.

Education is a major purpose. Both the conference and the exhibition, in their respective ways, present and disseminate current best practice in health informatics amongst healthcare and social care decision makers, health informatics professionals and users of health informatics.

Members of the seven BCS health informatics groups continue to be at the leading edge of the development of the science, and one of the aims of BCSHIF is to support these groups by providing an opportunity for their members to present their work or participate in the many networking and learning opportunities.

The conference in particular provides an opportunity for continuing professional development with attendance being recognised by a number of professional bodies.

HC is also the UK's showcase for health informatics and, through BCSHIF being the UK member of both the European and international health informatics groups, the event provides a medium for exchanges with European and worldwide developments. It is part of the international network of events of the European Federation of Medical Informatics (EFMI) and the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA).

Both the conference and the exhibition would be weaker without the other and singly would not be able to provide the varied experience that they present together.

As members of a professional society, the organisers of HC aim to present a variety of sometimes conflicting views so long as they can be substantiated. This unbiased stance is sometimes contentious.

Each year, the conference organisers invite submissions for participation. Those that are accepted after a rigorous refereeing process provide an opportunity for academics and others to present their work and have it published in the conference proceedings.

In recent years contributors to HC have been invited to re-present their work for publication in one of two peer reviewed, indexed, journals namely Medical Informatics and the Internet in Medicine and Informatics in Primary Care.

Speakers recognised as experts in hot topics are invited to present their views, hold a tutorial or present a master class.

We aim to provide more light-hearted opportunities for networking, meeting or chatting with friends. The event offers a comfortable environment for these, and there is an optional social programme.

Many attending HC (including national and international organisations) will take the opportunity of colleagues being in the same place to hold meetings, organise meals or other ways of getting together outside the more formal programme.

How it is organised

Coordination of the event is the responsibility of the HC Executive comprising representatives of both partners. The programme for the conference is the responsibility of the HC Programme Committee bringing together experts from the NHS, academia and from the many other stakeholders in health informatics to put together content that you will want to allocate precious time to attending.

One objective which is part of the event's aim in furthering the development of the science of health informatics is inclusiveness. The cost to conference delegates, therefore, is kept at a minimum.

This is made possible by members of the conference-organising committees donating their time to the conference’s many organisational tasks, substantial sponsorship and support from BJHC Limited and additional sponsorship from suppliers.

The future for HC

The theme for this year's HC is challenging boundaries. HC2008 will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the event and its theme is 'An invitation to the future'. The event will continue to both bring together examples of good practice and explore the future for the technologies and their application.

The HC Executive Committee is always pleased to hear from anyone with ideas that could improve any aspect of the event. Let us know by contacting anyone below.


Sheila Bullas, chair, HC2008 Executive Committee.

Nettie de Glanville, managing director, BJHC Limited.

Prof. Stephen Kay, chairman, HC2008 Programme Committee.

Judy Hayes, conference administration,

HC2007: Challenging Boundaries 

This year's programme has five streams: a panel  session, presentations, masterclasses, tutuorials, and panel sessions and papers. The many topics (correct at time of going to press) include: 

Crossing boundaries - sharing  information across national boundaries
Dr Kenneth Robertson, clinical lead for IM&T, Scottish Executive Health Department;
Dr Martin Murphy, clinical director, Informing Healthcare, Wales;
Prof. Denise Lievesley, chief executive of the Information Centre for health and social care. 

The semantic web and e-health
Prof. Nigel Shadbolt, BCS President. 

Ministerial speech
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath OBE, Minister of State for Quality, Department of Health. 

Predicting hospital admissions: the combined model and virtual wards 
Dr Geraint Lewis, policy adviser, Cabinet Office and visiting fellow, King's Fund.

Assuring the safety of patients from health software 
Steve Daniels, managing principal consultant, SIEMENS Insight Consulting, Siemens Enterprise Communications.  

Challenge of emerging technologies and the personal health record  
Kevin Dean, managing director, Public Sector Healthcare, Internet Business Solutions Group, Cisco Systems. 

Common user interface
John Coulthard, director of healthcare, Microsoft. 

The Canadian experience of developing a national EHR 
Michael Competiello, vice president of consulting services, Initiate Systems.  

Realising the dream of 21st century healthcare
Panel session.  

Decision support in cognitive impairments 
Dr FMHM Dupuits, Maastricht University,  The Netherlands.