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The CHIME bell sounds

PHOENIX — Yes, the CHIME 2016 Fall Forum, the College of Health Information Management Executives’ biggest annual conference, came with a soundtrack.

And we’re not talking Foreigner, the 70s-rock dinosaurs who serenaded the healthcare CIOs and their health IT vendor colleagues on the last night of the weeklong confab in the Arizona desert.

Rather, the traditional aural accompaniment to the event was courtesy of employees of the posh JW Marriot Desert Ridge Resort; they struck gentle chimes on a handheld instrument during changeovers before the start of plenary and panel sessions.

CHIME 2016 was that kind of happening, not quite subdued, but not nearly as frenzied as the biggest health IT shows such as HIMSS (Health Information Management and Systems Society) and RSNA (Radiological Society of North America), to name a couple of those with the most ubiquitous acronyms.

Although some 450 CIOs and another 500 vendor execs were on hand, there were no flashy vendor booths and little hard sell — other than an unavoidably annoying endless loop video from EHR vendor athenahealth, Inc. featuring soon-to-be former athenahealth COO Ed Park touting the Massachusetts company’s new web site.

By the way, this was athenahealth’s first foray into the CHIME fall conference world, perhaps signaling that the relatively small but marketing-savvy vendor is confident enough these days to compete in a bigger arena withominant EHR players like Cerner Corp. and Epic Systems Corp. There were also plenty of CIOs on hand from the small community and critical access hospitals that athenahealth has serviced since the company acquired Razorinsights, LLC in January 2015.

Much of the real action at CHIME 2016 unfolded behind closed doors during small CHIME Foundation focus group sessions at which vendors floated new technology ideas and quietly wooed new customers.

There was also a lot of networking, with CIOs chatting with each other and consultants about the latest technology and consultants, consultants trawling for clients, and vendors seeking business partners.

So while the decibel levels at the gathering were generally low (except during the Foreigner performance, of course), the sheer volume of health IT brainpower quietly circulating around the lobby, convention halls and golf course of the resort was impressive.