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August 2013

The Biggest Challenges Medical Meeting Planners Face Today

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor
the point — “ever” is a long time, but I think we’re a long way away from getting to the point where everything will be done online. I think the medical industry is such that there needs to be that interchange, that interaction between people to discuss solutions and possible solutions.

BH I think it’s because maybe I’m beginning to be the same age as these people, I now realize that they like going to congresses because it’s a break from work. I don’t know about in the States, but in Europe the life of an average cardiologist professionally has become a little bit less fun; they’re no longer viewed in the same way in the sense of privileges. They’re being bossed around by hospital managers and having to think about things about health economics that they really don’t want to think about, and getting away for five days to congress is literally that — it’s getting away from it all. Still talking about work, but in an environment which is a bit more conducive to what they consider to be their specialty. I don’t think we can underestimate that.

LA And I think the other biggest factor, just like with any other meeting, is the networking and connection. They like seeing colleagues. One thing about medical meetings, you can get a pair of these physicians or researchers that haven’t seen each other for a while, and they’ll sit down, they’ll talk for hours. It’s amazing. Just looking at each other’s research or looking at each other’s way of how they’re doing it at their institution or their facility. So the networking is extremely, extremely important for them.

The education, yes. But a lot of it is the networking, and that is probably more for the older base. For the younger attendees, it’s to get their message out there. So they’re extremely excited about giving these posters and talking about their abstracts. It’s a really big deal for them.

BS From evaluations and from my experience with them, it’s the high-quality science [that ATA attendees are interested in], where they’re learning cutting edge, they’re learning new data that’s not just a review of what they already have read in their journals. They’re not coming to find out what’s happened in the past year. Our attendees come to hear about the absolute current state of thyroid research and discovery.

What are the challenges of serving an audience of international attendees?

LA I would say the challenges are the normal challenges — visa issues, because we are international and we do funding for some of the young investigators. But we’re a U.S.-based society, so with funding, say, for some of those coming from Cuba or Iran, we have to deal with OFAC [the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control], so that’s an issue for us. But generally most of it is just getting folks there — again, the visa issues, and for some of them that have never traveled outside of their area, just being able to make sure that we are accommodating, helpful, and can give them some insight and knowledge to where they’re going.

BH It’s not a big issue. In fact, what is more of a problem [for ESC] is the national issue. We are going to Amsterdam this year, and if, for example, we start having ideas from the Dutch Society of Cardiology to have the queen of Holland or something like that coming, that is something that we would actually fight off. The danger would be more the national rather than the international.

This might not be as much for an issue for the international societies, but has the implementation of health-care reform in the United States — Obamacare — affected your meetings?

BH Well, the problem is our direct member countries — we’ve got 54 of them, and they’ve all got their own health-care reforms. It just leaves everything up in the air and it increases all the funding issues for people coming and so on. It just makes it that much more complex. We can’t get into any one issue, or any one area of legislation, because there’s just too many to handle.

LA More than just Obamacare is the whole Sunshine Act [provision of the Affordable Care Act] and how this is going to impact our corporate partners and how that trickledown effect will impact us as a society. People think about the new Sunshine Act here in the States, but there are many countries that have a Sunshine Act, and again, it’s understanding all of those different compliances and how they will impact your meeting. And that’s terribly burdensome.

We’re still trying to get questions answered here about the U.S. Sunshine Act that will be implemented as of Aug. 1. Even though we’re doing international meetings, we do have U.S. speakers. Does it apply when they’re abroad? How does that impact the society, or is that just a reporting [mandate] for industry?

What are some new developments around medical meetings that you’re excited about?

BS I’m part of a patient advocacy board that the Society of Nuclear Medicine [and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI)] started. Because [ATA has] this alliance of five [patient] organizations, I go on their behalf. I represent the patients. [SNMMI’s Annual] Meeting was fascinating. They have a full-day workshop where their patients hear from the scientists and the physicians about their particular issues. And then we partnered with the patients and took them through the exhibit hall. Their exhibit hall is overwhelming because of all the machinery, all of the MRI machines and that kind of thing.

Because of the Internet and all the patients that are learning so much online — not necessarily good information, but they’re taking into their physician reams of paper and information — I think that will be the new frontier, if you will, of patients participating in a much greater degree. Not only in receiving the education, but in informing their physicians about what’s important.

BH What I find exciting is the fact that the meetings that we do are beginning to be spread over the whole year. The whole question of going mobile, going digital, going remote, going paperless — all of that kind of thing — and the fact that our meetings are a way to engage people throughout the whole year, I think, takes it towards something which has more value and goes beyond just the venue. It’s going to add to the overall impact of what we do. A lot of us that work for associations, we do have the hope that we’re actually doing something that shows a higher cause than just share value and so on, and I think that the way that things are evolving means that our work will improve the impact that the professions that we represent have on society.

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