Getting the Most out of Medical Conferences

As the Clash once asked, "Should I stay or should I go?" With requests for attendance seemingly arriving every day via traditional or email, how can a physician determine which ones are worth attending?

"Should I stay or should I go?" That’s a question asked by The Clash in their 1982 number-one single of the same name. Today, physicians are asking the same question, albeit with reference to attending medical conferences. With requests for attendance seemingly arriving every day via traditional or email, how can a physician determine which ones are worth attending?

“That’s an excellent question,” says Scott Glaser, MD, DABIPP, a Chicago-based interventional pain physician and board member of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. “For young physicians, especially, there’s so much more information available now.”

And physicians need to use that information to help them make informed choices.

Do your homework

Glaser explains one of the first things to check is whether the societies or organizations sponsoring a conference, and the healthcare professionals who will be speaking, are reputable. He suggests going online and doing some research. Are these speakers well credentialed? Do they speak on these topics regularly? Do they belong to leading societies in the field? And, who else is being invited?

The content is going to be great. Trust me.

“Some of these conferences are just putting on a conference to make a buck,” Glaser says. “Check their credentials. Are they board certified in their field? Have they gone the extra mile in a sub-specialty for board certification? If not, you may not learn the standard of care or appropriate ways for doing things.”

Stephen Madison, RPh, MBA, president and CEO, Oncology Learning Center, Inc., echoes Glaser’s thoughts. He points out that when it comes to medical conferences, faculty and content are keys. He calls them the two most important reasons for choosing which meetings to attend. If physicians are going to give up a day or more of revenue generation, “the world’s most respected and prestigious faculty must be at the event.”

Online options

Joe Lipman is CEO of New Jersey-based Summit Management Services, a provider of corporate meeting planning and medical education services. He says that meetings have changed dramatically over the years, and in many respects, they’re actually three meetings in one: the face-to-face meeting; the face-to-face meeting with online opportunity; and the on-demand meeting, where the meeting is being recorded so that it can be viewed on demand at a later date. The latter two, Lipman says, have grown considerably more popular in recent years.

“More and more people are comfortable [with online meetings],” he says, noting that they’re particularly popular for short, one-day meetings that may only last four hours. “For someone to fly [to the East coast] from California the day before, or take a two-hour train ride from a Northeast Corridor city, may not make sense.”

On second thought, I think I'll pass.

Online meetings, such as those facilitated by companies like WebEx Communications, have not only grown more sophisticated in recent years, but they enable those attending the conference online to feel as though they’re in the room with the speakers. Through WebEx, online attendees can press a button to virtually raise their hand, type in a question that is seen by the entire audience—face-to-face and online—and then responded to.

“Putting large screens around the room, and laptops in front of the attendees, you create an opportunity for everyone to see everything that is going on,” Lipman says. “You’re keeping the people who are remotely at the meeting feeling that they’re in the room.”

No substitute

Glaser says he has participated in a few online conferences, and says that were chosen by the same criteria as if he were attending in person: there were well-credentialed people speaking. They’re an excellent option, he says, for gathering information, but adds that they can’t replace what you can obtain by attending a conference in person.

“Being able to ask questions of the speaker in between sessions, and being able to network with other individuals who are running high level practices around the country—you really can’t benchmark yourself like that with a webinar.”

Lipman doesn’t disagree, and points out that there’s no time like the present to attend a medical conference in person. “There’s never been a better time to travel. I’ve never seen airfares lower, and I’ve never seen hotel rates lower. I see so much being offered, so now is the time we should be traveling.”

But do your homework first. Remember, says Glaser, “With the Internet, you can identify board members, thought leaders, and people who are credentialed. These are the doctors you want to be talking to.”