In-person medical education conferences and scientific meetings are a huge delivery vehicle for the healthcare initiatives that are on everyone’s minds these days. Medical associations and societies fill education gaps, establish care standards and protocols, influence legislative and regulatory decision-making, and much more.   

Medical meetings also have a positive impact on the economy: According to officials at the San Diego Convention Center, for example, 15 healthcare meetings planned in 2014 should draw more than 120,000 attendees to the city and result in $187 million in direct attendee spending and $425 million in economic impact. Here are some key considerations for planners of healthcare and medical meetings today:

1. Differentiate and specify the value of your meeting.

Through the 2007–2009 recession, medical societies sought to increase revenue by attracting a more diverse membership or customer base—interdisciplinary options were available everywhere.

One unfortunate outcome of this trend is a slate of meetings that appeal to everyone, which creates an opportunity for organizations looking to distinguish themselves and their offerings from the herd. Healthcare associations and societies must balance the value of interdisciplinary attendance (which supports today’s trend toward providing team-based care) with the need to specify exactly who will benefit from the content and programming. 

Bottom line: Know your audience and craft your content to be of value to each of the types of healthcare professionals you aim to attract.

2. Deliver solutions to known challenges.

We’ve had three years to read, translate, and identify the challenges associated with the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Today we’re deep into implementation and adjustments to the laws and regulations surrounding healthcare. Industry professionals can quickly rattle off the frustrations and issues they face every day as a result.

Bottom line: General, broad-based education and diluted networking are yesterday’s needs. Be a resource for your members by addressing the challenges they face today. By listening to the concerns of your market you can make your entire event a solution center of techniques, strategies, products, and services. To do this effectively, home in on attendees’ exact issues. Are they struggling with executing a new healthcare information system, or implementing Maintenance of Certification Part IV and ICD-10? Provide relevant case studies, very specific topical solutions, and roundtable problem-solving sessions where attendees can present their individual challenges to experts.

3. Complement your event with a virtual component. As meeting professionals, we all know the value of in-person events. But we can’t turn our backs on the appeal and benefits of technology. Start strategic discussions by asking, “How can technology make more people want to attend next year?” Don’t forget that virtual add-ons to an in-person event are as much about marketing as they are about the attendee experience.

Bottom Line: Don’t try to replicate your event in an online experience. The goal is to deliver a portion of the value through technology, and create feelings among those in front of their computers that next year is the year to attend in-person.

4. Make service your top priority.

My personal goal is to ensure that the attendees of our client organizations’ events never suffer with an obvious question or inconvenience while on site. Everything should be considered in advance and addressed with signage, visible personnel, repetition in all sessions, and so on. Putting services and experience at the forefront has historically resulted in success for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Take Starbucks, for example. The coffee company created its empire by focusing on service and experience. The result was a fiercely loyal customer base that helped Starbucks reach nearly $15 billion in revenue and sales in 2013.

Bottom line: In advance of sessions, planners should ask staff and volunteers to describe how they will go through a typical day at a meeting. Use these descriptions to create new service opportunities. Walk where they’ll walk and brainstorm ideas and clever tips/info that create a service “wow” that your attendees will talk about when they return to their offices.

Our pride as healthcare association professionals should be matched with a deep sense of responsibility and stewardship. We are tasked with the care and nurturing of an organization and its largest, most-visible offering—the healthcare or medical meeting. I find myself energized by this opportunity and look forward to the impact our organizations are making within the healthcare industry throughout the U.S.

David Schmahl is chief executive, Healthcare + Scientific Industry Practice, with association management and services provider SmithBucklin.