HFMA ANI's high and low-tech swag

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I could have opened up an Apple store with the number of iPads being given on the show floor of the Healthcare Financial Management Association's ANI conference in Las Vegas this week.

Those endless numbers of electronic devices were meant to be the main draw to the show floor, perhaps echoing healthcare's move toward tablet devices in everyday use. And let's face it: The rows and rows of healthcare finance vendors whose booths are corporately identical need something glamorous to draw in attendees.

Of course, some vendors try to grab attention by handing out little trinkets of a far less techie nature. Perhaps the biggest eyeball-grabber was what Pennsylvania-based Executive Health Resources was doling out: caricature drawings of attendees, captured not on paper but on mini Etch-A-Sketch. The excess silver powder that fuels an Etch-A-Sketch is removed in order to fix the image. The knobs are then glued into place, and the name of the person whose likeness has been rendered is engraved on the toy's frame.

The artist, Los Angeles-based Chris Brown, told me he was self-taught. That made him somewhat of an iconoclast among the herd of M.D.s and MBAs.

"I was mentioned in Tori Spelling's book for the time when I did her mother's Christmas party," Brown told me as he twisted the likeness of another audit consultant into place. It is likely this is the only time such a line was dropped at an HFMA event, but I haven't checked with its official historian.

Speaking of time, Las Vegas-based software firm Ormed handed out desk clocks with the heft of brass knuckles. Along with telling time, the dials included a thermometer and some other information no one could divine, other than it hovered around 60. Factions at the booth were split between relative humidity and barometric pressure.

The outdoor leitmotiv was vigorously reinforced by San Francisco-based CarePayment, which handed out beach balls. The connection was meant to conjure up lifeguards--and the protection CarePayment offered--Allison Yazdian, the firm's cheery vice president of product and marketing, told me. Yazdian holds an MBA from Stanford University and a doctorate from some unknown institution in metaphorical stretches.

There were no sunglasses to be had, but I could get a pair of black spectacles made to look like the frame had been broken at the nosepiece and held together by a piece of green tape. That was the brainchild of Chicago-based TransUnion Healthcare, as part of its "Be Very Smart From The Very Start" advertising campaign. Its employees spent a couple of hours wrapping pieces of green rubber around the glasses. People throughout the show floor were wearing them.

I needed a drink by this time, which made the booth of Fort Myers, Fla.-based firm Healthcare Coding and Consulting Services the place to be. HCCS CEO William D. Cronin was handing out mini bottles of Jameson whiskey branded with his company's name. Cronin, who hails from Ireland, likes the connection to his homeland--along with the business drummed up by the samples of his native firewater.

"I had some executive who had that bottle on her desk for years. She took a closer look at it on the same day they had started looking for a coding firm. I got a contract out of it," Cronin told me.

My bottle would have never lasted long enough for me to pay close attention to the label, so it's probably a good idea I'm not a hospital finance exec.

Too much whiskey does not mix well with light. So I thought it ironic that a nearby booth hosted yet another firm from Fort Myers, Apollo Information Services. It was handing out a mini LED lantern that you can clip onto your hat, said Lee Corey, Apollo's director of business operations. It comes in very handy when you're gathering your fishing worms, Corey observed. I've never fished, so I suppose I'll use it to connect with my inner coal miner.

The light could have been best deployed by the Foundation for Hospital Art. It was asking conference attendees to participate in "paint by numbers" portraits of birds, flowers and fish. The best examples would be assembled into a painted mural for St. John's Hospital, the hospital in Joplin, Mo., badly damaged by a tornado.

The most touching knick-knack being given away was from the General Service Bureau. It was offering handmade bookmarks. I put together a double-sided job, with colorful squiggles and pink swirls. Executive Vice President Therese Yakel ran it through the laminator and attached a glittery ribbon. I wonder if she ever does that during meetings.

It's going to my daughter, an inveterate reader. Books are a surefire way to keep her away from her mother's iPad. - Ron (@FierceHealth)