Stefan Schneeberger, M.D., an Austrian transplant surgeon, spoke about the benefits of liveat a recent conference that garnered opinions from a variety of stakeholders about the future of global meetings, both live and virtual. Schneeberger addressed Association Day attendees at IMEX, the exhibition that represents the worldwide meetings, events, and incentive travel industry, held in May in Frankfurt, Germany.
“Having worked in surgery and research at Johns Hopkins, and participated in more than 100 scientific congresses, I know something about the future of the live conference for physicians,” said Schneeberger, who serves as treasurer for the European Society of Organ Transplantation.
Schneeberger shared his list of what he likes about medical congresses: networking, getting input from other fields, presenting his own work and getting feedback, meeting new people, and staying in a hotel that’s paid for.
This last comment evoked nervous laughter from the audience, many of whom understood just how short-lived the practice of pharma covering non-U.S. doctors’ travel to conferences would be.
Here’s what Schneeberger hates about medical congresses: large crowds, programs with too many things going on at once, lack of innovation (too much of “more of the same”); the feeling of being part of a money machine, and too much paper.
“We have been thriving on an old business model, nurtured by the pharma industry, and a model tolerated by government,” said Schneeberger. He called for an open discussion among medical congress organizers, physicians, and the pharmaceutical industry, which, outside of the U.S., is still used to footing the bill for docs to attend congresses. “It remains ethically challenging, and it should be openly discussed!”
To that end, panelist Anna Frick, head of the global conference and exhibition department, AstraZeneca, Sweden, and president of the International Pharmaceutical Congress Advisory Association, explained her company’s newest policy regarding physician travel. “We will no longer sponsor any delegates to congresses,” she said, making it clear that while financial support to congresses would be available, it would be focused on “doing things that benefit the patient, and reaching more patients at the end of the day.” She said that support could take the form of educational grants to societies to maintain objectivity. She conceded that there will be more competition among societies for less pharma funding, and that “the best society will win.”
Schneeberger’s recommendations for the future health of live conferences? “Have speakers ‘go outside our podium,’ help us find ways to improve our practices and our research and to find new collaborators. We want to be inspired and learn to think differently by people from other fields.”
While the doctor admitted that different generations of docs adopt technology at different speeds, he encouraged organizers to use technology at meetings and to innovate with program design and format by figuring out ways to individualize an attendee’s experience, perhaps through the use of iPads and apps, teleconferencing, and broadcasting. “Face it, Facebook is a fact of life,” he said. “Make your conferences targeted, interactive, and individualized so that I can be inspired, heard, educated, connected, and entertained.”