Editors at Convene, the Professional Conference Management Association’s monthly magazine, recently invited a group of experts in the field of medical meeting planning to participate in a round table discussion about their profession and the organizations they serve.
The editors asked the participants to identify the biggest challenges they face professionally, as well as describing what they believe represent the most pressing issues impacting medical meeting planners in today’s rapidly evolving health care industry.
While everyone voiced their fair share of frustration at the round table, they also expressed confidence in the enduring value of meetings for medical professionals. Some even offered a few insights into how they’ve made their conferences more relevant and appealing in response to the changing needs of organization members.
Here’s a sampling of what some experts believe to be the most important issues facing medical meeting planners.
Felix Niespodziewanski, Director of Convention and Meetings, American College of Surgeons (ACS)
Felix Niespodziewanski opened the round table by citing changes in conference funding opportunities as his biggest challenge. He said his organization has begun to lose its major exhibitors, requiring the group to come up with new ways to pay for their meetings.
Niespodziewanski attributed this loss, in part, to the fact that fewer physicians are practicing independently or working in contexts that authorize them to make purchasing decisions. According to Niespodziewanski, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers realize they need to reach providers, not procurement officers, to be successful. As access to these providers has become more difficult to obtain, exhibitors have turned away from large events and focused their energies on smaller and more specialized meetings.
Despite budgetary struggles, Niespodziewanski remains optimistic about the future of medical meetings and continues to explore ways to create a stronger, more vital conference participation base for his organization.
ACS has started to reach out more vigorously to medical practitioners from other countries. Conference organizers are considering including translators and presentations in languages other than English at future meetings in hopes of garnering a larger audience.
Barbara Smith, Executive Director, American Thyroid Association (ATA)
Barbara Smith spoke next, commenting that she feels particularly exasperated by the rigidity and paperwork-heavy nature of CME credit issuance regulations. While she acknowledged the benefits of medicine elevating continuing education expectations in general, she criticized the new rules for applying a one-size-fits-all standard to conference activities that vary greatly in terms of their format and intended purposes. According to Smith, the current standard inflates the value of attending long and formal lecture formats and discounts many of the educational benefits conference-goers receive when they participate in more informal discussions and activities.
Smith described medical meetings as environments uniquely conducive to generating new ideas and solutions to problems. She said that face-to-face conversations with fellow scholars facilitate insight and creativity in a way nothing else can. Because of this, she felt certain medical professionals would continue to seek out such conversations.
Smith also noted that her strategy for ensuring healthy conference attendance is to focus on a specific need expressed by participants, such as learning about the latest developments in their field. According to Smith, scientists in her organization won’t spend time and money traveling to a conference for information they can find in a journal. They want to know about emerging technologies and cutting-edge research, which is why she aims to find ways to emphasize this in conference programs.
Lisa Astorga, Director of Meetings, International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH)
Lisa Astorga believes that since her organization is international, as well as interdisciplinary, her biggest challenge is maintaining compliance with the multiple accreditation standards and laws that govern her society’s members and the group’s conference activities.
Astorga also identified the unpredictable and volatile nature of sponsorship and exhibitor participation as a source of anxiety for her, given the fact that her conference relies so heavily on both sponsors and exhibitors for funding.
When asked about the value of professional conferences for health care providers, Astorga observed that it differs according to generational status. For older members, the meetings represent an opportunity to spend time with old friends and discuss shared interests. For younger members, meetings allow them to gain professional exposure, providing excitement when given the chance to present their work.
Ben Hainsworth, Director, Congresses and Meetings Division, European Society of Cardiology (ESC)
Ben Hainsworth also cited economic uncertainty as a major issue for his organization. He stressed the difficulties involved in making long-term plans about how to allocate resources, in the absence of information about when and how things like organizational demographics, institutional support for participants and sponsor and exhibitor involvement might change.
At the same time, he acknowledged that economic uncertainty in the health care field has helped his organization to become more robust. For many members, the group’s annual conference represents one of the few professional constants in their lives, increasing their willingness to invest in it heavily. Hainsworth has turned the conference into the main platform professionals in the field use to share their work, gain exposure and network with colleagues.
Ultimately, all of the participants expressed excitement about the future of medical meetings. They also showed optimism in the process of planning these types of meetings, despite the difficulties associated with working in an uncertain and shifting economic climate.
As the industry continues to change, the challenges facing medical meeting planners are likely to increase, along with opportunities for creativity and innovation. For more information on medical continuing education, contact the Oquendo Center today.
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