The medical meetings industry has seen cutbacks in education budgets and significant reductions in industry sponsorships. In addition, every day more health care association members are often faced with paying their own way for continuing education.
Despite the slump, many medical meetings saw success—some by taking their technology to new, innovative levels and others by going back to basics. Members of SmithBucklin’s Healthcare & Scientific Industry Practice – Lauren Kemp, manager of education and learning services, and Nicole Anderson, senior coordinator for education and learning services—have examples, in their own words, of four associations that took four different approaches to significantly grow their health care events in the past year.
Here are the challenges Kemp and Anderson had and how they met them.
• The Special Care Dentistry Association Annual Meeting (which will meet in Chicago next April) typically draws 300 to 400 attendees.
• Use digital tools to get attendees to the conference.
• Attract those just entering the field to the association and its events.
Nicole Anderson: “The Special Care Dentistry Association members are dentists who work specifically with patients with physical or mental disabilities. It is not necessarily as cutting edge on the research side of it, but there is some actual medical content that is enduring and needs to be learned by everybody who enters the field before they ever get started.”
• Offer “Special Dentistry 101” material in a digital format before the conference, leaving more time and resources for the more advanced, more compelling content in the live format.
Anderson: “We created a “quick start” program with five to 10 modules. Each module is something that, if you are new to special dentistry, will be helpful to you.
“This is virtual, on demand. Then you can maximize your in-person conference time because you can take this quick-start module beforehand and then come on site and have the prerequisite for being at the conference.
“This benefits those new to the field and those coming to the conference. We can offer more advanced content at the conference for those who don’t need that program. That’s capitalizing on the best of the virtual and the best of the in-person.
“Our attendance at the live conference is growing. We watch closely what the demographic of the increase is. Obviously, we’re shooting for the young investigators and those new to the industry.
“The increase in our attendance at the conference is in students and what we call new investigators.”
• The American Urogynecologic Society Annual Scientific Meeting (which will meet in Las Vegas in October) typically draws 300 attendees.
• Given the limitations of a traditional conference venue, to provide live demonstrations of medical procedures.
Lauren Kemp: “These are the actual surgeons in the room doing the surgery. They’ve seen growth in their conference attendance because they’ve started requiring board certification. All of a sudden, everybody’s panicked about making sure they’re up to date in their field.
“We’ve talked about doing live surgery and having it telecast into the room, but one of our members actually pointed out the fact that live surgery isn’t very exciting unless something goes wrong.
“So we dropped the live surgery aspect and decided to do more of an anatomy review on a cadaver. We talked about bringing the cadaver into the space for the meeting, having groups rotate through with a facilitator, but there were problems with that too. So, we decided not to go the live route.”
• Use video to record a demonstration from an off-site location to the live conference venue.
Kemp: “We decided to broadcast it in from one of our leading members at the University of Michigan. He had a facility there that was equipped for video broadcasting and we worked with the AV team at the hotel to have that feed into the conference room.
“We found it was actually better to watch things like that virtually because you can put the camera right there. You don’t have to stand two people back from a demo.
“Although he wasn’t live in the room doing the procedure, the benefit to the attendee was huge because they could see more of what was going on. They could still ask their questions because it was live. It wasn’t pre-recorded.
“It was a value-add that we wouldn’t have had if he’d been there live. We’ve done it twice now, each time with about 100 doctors in the room.”
Anderson: “With the special care dentists, there was a speaker who wanted to demonstrate the use of acupuncture as a cure for ‘dry mouth.’ We started thinking about somebody doing acupuncture, which is a very subtle process with short needles in a room with 100 people in it.
“He wanted to bring in some patients and do the acupuncture in the room. This had some logistics issues, mainly because our CE provider needed to make sure legally we were in a good position to be doing a procedure on a patient.
“In the end we recorded it and made a video out of it, which made it more rich than would have happened in the session. The main thing was that he was able to do the acupuncture on his patient and show the effects of them salivating within minutes of him doing the acupuncture.
“If we had tried to do it live, we would have to fly the patients in. We might have had to find them locally or he could have just done it on himself. But then we wouldn’t have seen any of the salivation effect.”
• The National Association of Medical Staff Services Educational Conference & Exhibition (meeting Sept. 21-25 in Hollywood, Fla.) typically draws 1,600 to 2,000 attendees.
• Provide continuing education to association members who have limited or no travel budgets.
• Limit cannibalizing of the live meeting.
Kemp: “The National Association of Medical Staff Services are the people in the hospitals who credential the doctors and nurses. They’re not the actual doctors and nurses, but they are health care-related and they’re facing a lot of the same cuts in travel and budget that is all across the health care industry.
“These are people who maybe are on a rotating staff status and maybe can only go every other year. Maybe their hospital doesn’t fund them at all.”
• Create a virtual conference option identical to the live conference.
Kemp: “When we first started to think that attendance would drop because of health care changes three years ago, we started to offer a full virtual conference option. There was a little bit of a worry that it would cannibalize the live audience, that people would see they can get the content online and, therefore, not travel at all.
“We didn’t really see that happen. People are going to make the effort to be there, whether it’s offered in another format or not.
“Of all of our concurrent sessions going on, we make one of them virtual. We do webcasts from that room. Using the virtual option, we’ve had 325 people sign up for this year’s conference session.
“This is the third year we’ve done it and it has grown every year. Those are people who have signed up to watch everything from the opening to the closing session. We also offer one-day passes. We don’t get so granular as to offer single sessions.
“They get all the same CE credits and materials a live attendee would. They have the same opportunity to type in their questions that a live moderator in the room will then ask the speaker. If there’s any follow-up they can type that in the same way.
“The annual conference usually draws 1,600 to 2,000 people, and it has grown. So, those are not 325 people that we kept from going to the live meeting, but that wouldn’t have been able to see the content otherwise.”
• The International Society for Hematology and Stem Cells Annual Scientific Meeting (which will meet in Montreal next August) typically draws 300 to 400 attendees.
• Provide relevant content in a quickly changing field—both digitally and live.
• Attract those just entering the field to the association and its events.
Anderson: “The International Society for Hematology and Stem Cells is a very scientific society. It bridges the clinicians and the research scientists, and many of them have both Ph.Ds and M.D.s.
“Their work is often rapidly changing. Enduring material is difficult for them to even think about. The content has been proven otherwise or there’s new research that goes in a different direction.
“So, we are focusing on the young investigators, new to research, new to the field. Of course, they’re getting training in the science. That’s what their programs are for.
“One place we’ve been able to help them, in person and on a digital platform, is with developing professionally.”
• Create non-scientific content for those new to the field they can get at the conference, repackage it for later use as digital products.
Anderson: “This year we had several robust content areas at the actual conference that involved networking. We focused on getting the heavy hitters in the field in the same space as the young investigators and to try to facilitate that networking.
“We had lunch sessions that focused on specific areas of professional development for these new scientists: How do they create their presence on line as a burgeoning scientist in the field? How do you make your LinkedIn profile professional? How do you use Twitter?
“That’s not exactly cutting-edge technology, but what we have done with this is seize these content areas that are enduring. “We have created a membership category for students and we’ll be reaching out to them and saying here is some ‘quick start’ content for you as a professional, to address certain parts of their professional lives. We are making modules that young investigators can use and access online if they’re members.
“We also supply handouts and any worksheets that the presenters have given. I really focus on that because just recording something live isn’t necessarily and inherently helpful. But if you have a takeaway, we can make a little package out of it.”