One of the two main German trade fairs for information technology in healthcare, the ITeG appeared to be in disarray at the end of last week.

Trade fair organizer, Mesago, and the leading German industrial association for health-IT, VHitG, have decided to go separate ways after a difference of views about the future of the event.

The argument has led to the paradoxical situation, that both parties now claim to organise the next ITeG in 2008. The VHitG (“Verband der Hersteller von IT-Lösungen für das Gesundheitswesen”) has announced it will hold “its” ITeG in Berlin from 8 to 10 April. Mesago, in return, has issued a press release that the ITeG will take place in Frankfurt, from 6 to 8 May.

“It is quite obvious that only one out of the two events will be called ITeG in the end” says VHitG-spokeswoman Dagmar Baust.

When talking to E-Health Europe, both parties have insisted that they will go to court to clarify the copyright issue as soon as possible.

VHitG and Mesago have jointly launched ITeG in Frankfurt three years ago. VHitG was in the role of a patron and brought its 38 members as financially potent exhibitors. Mesago, though, was actually in charge for running ITeG and took all the financial risks. So far, ITeG has been mainly a trade fair, with only little additional programme like presentations or seminars.

The recent ITeG in Berlin, held while Germany held the European presidency, was an exception: The event was co-organised with the European Commission’s European eHealth Conference.

“Although the ITeG has been growing in size slowly but steadily, many IT-companies were not too happy with the event, because customer frequency remained somewhat lower than expected”, says Baust. For this reason, the VHitG decided to vote for a more HIMSS-style approach with educational seminars next year to make ITeG more attractive both for companies and for potential customers. This, says Baust, was not what Mesago wanted, and thus VHitG decided to look for a different organiser.

Mesago tell a slightly different version of the story. “We have analysed our events in Frankfurt and Berlin, and it became clear that the number of customers from all over Germany was higher in Frankfurt, and that many companies preferred Frankfurt as ITeG-location”, says Claudia Grau from Mesago. This was a no-go for VHitG, probably for political reasons.

Grau told E-Health Europe that Mesago was still willing to talk to VHitG to find a solution. But VHitG does not seem to be interested, and is already approaching other fair organisers.

It seems pretty likely, then, that there will be two competing health-IT fairs in Germany next spring. This raises the question for IT-companies where to exhibit, since most won’t be able or willing to pay for both, especially since they are only four weeks apart.

VHitG is convinced that “its” Berlin-ITeG will attract most companies, since a number of big health-IT players in the German market are leading VHitG-members, among them Siemens, Agfa Healthcare, Tieto Enator, Docexpert and iSoft. They were involved in the decision to leave Mesago, and thus they most likely will not exhibit in the Frankfurt event.

On the other hand, Mesago says that roughly 250 out of nearly 290 exhibitors of the recent ITeG were not VHitG-members and thus potential candidates for a Frankfurt fair. “We would not have announced this move if we had not talked to companies and gained the impression that a Frankfurt-ITeG might work”, says Grau.

There are two possible scenarios now: One is, that the Frankfurt event fails, if it turns out that the gravitational forces of Siemens, Agfa, Tieto and the like are so massive that smaller companies prefer to go to Berlin. The other scenario is that Mesago is right and that there is room for two fairs of then probably comparable size with around one hundred companies each.

Much will depend on whether Mesago will be able to convince at least some of the big IT-players outside VHitG to go to Frankfurt. Most notoriously, CompuGroup is not a member of VHitG. Given the plans of an iSoft takeover by CompuGroup, there are some doubts about the future of iSoft within VHitG now.

Other prominent names outside VHitG include Microsoft and IBM. Together with others, these companies might reach the critical mass for a Frankfurt-ITeG. A good idea for smaller companies is probably to wait and see and try to negotiate discounts.