How has the American Heart Association's International Stroke Conference almost doubled its attendance over the past three years — growing from about 2,450 delegates in 2003 to 4,174 in 2006? Program organizers say they've achieved their success through a two-part strategy: broadening the scope of the conference by featuring education for the wider stroke community, including the healthcare team; and partnering with another meeting.

“Our goal has been to make [the stroke conference] the most comprehensive meeting in cerebral vascular diseases available,” says Costantino Iadecola, MD, 2006 program chair, International Stroke Conference; and professor of neurology at Weil Medical College of Cornell University, New York. The conference now not only includes education of interest to clinical neurologists but also covers topics relevant to researchers. For the first time, at the 2006 meeting, held in February at the Gaylord Palms, Kissimmee, Fla., sessions were offered for the entire healthcare team, including nurses, physical therapists, speech therapists, and dietitians. “Our idea was to make the meeting the one-stop-shop for stroke,” Iadecola says.

It was not that difficult to develop programming that would appeal to the healthcare team, he says, because AHA's stroke council and the program committee already comprised members from a wide variety of disciplines. In addition to having an integrated program committee, faculty also included healthcare team members, such as nurses and speech therapists.

To promote the conference to nonphysicians, the marketing team developed targeted campaigns, says Paige Walker, senior manager, International Stroke Conference, Dallas. “For instance, we told the nurses about the nursing topics instead of telling them about the entire conference — so we told them about [sessions] that were of interest to them,” she says. While the team education did draw attendance, there are healthcare providers the stroke conference has not succeeded in attracting, says Walker, such as EMTs and primary care physicians.

The second attendance-building strategy is the AHA's partnership with the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The two groups have developed shared programming for several years. The AANS annual meeting used to follow the stroke conference; but for 2006, the meetings were held concurrently and AANS attendees were automatically registered for the stroke meeting at a discounted fee.

“Basically, they could choose to get on the bus and come over or not and luckily [it seems] the majority of them did come over,” she says.

In fact, the strategy was so successful that the two organizations are considering combining their meetings for 2007. The merged conference would be run through the American Heart Association.