With the impending implementation of the Affordable Care Act, voluntary restrictions on marketing put in place five years ago by the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, and a difficult economy, these are interesting times for those who plan events for the health care industry. But the impact of so many changes has not been universally felt. What is a significant consequence for one niche of the health care sector may mean little at all to another.
To get some sense of how those on the ground are dealing with all the changes in health care event planning, we spoke with three who work every day in the field:
• Kerry Crockett, executive director, U.S. & Canadian Academy of Pathology
• Vanessa Mobley, senior meetings manager, Association Management Center
• Jennifer Muldoon, director of conferences, Academy Health
EXPO: Tell me a little bit about your association and the events you produce.
Jennifer Muldoon: Academy Health is the membership association for health services researchers and people who use that research to improve decision-making in the health care services.
Kerry Crockett: We’re 107 years old; we’re the oldest and largest pathology association in the world. We provide CME for pathologists all over the world, so obviously they have to come to our meetings.
Vanessa Mobley: Our company manages about 30 different associations. I plan meetings for four of them, all in the health care field: the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, National Association for Health Care Quality and the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses.
EXPO: Where did you hold your main event last year?
Crockett: This past year we had our meeting in Vancouver, Canada, and it turned out to be our largest meeting ever. We had 130 exhibitors in 279 booths. We had really good exhibitor participation and attendance.
Muldoon: We were just in Orlando in June of 2012 and in June of 2013 we’ll be in Baltimore.
EXPO: How do you pick the cities you go to?
Muldoon: Our membership is national, so we try to move it to four different regions of the country: east, west, Midwest and south.
Crockett: We try in some rough way to do an East Coast-West Coast kind of thing to allow ease for folks who may not be able to come every year.
Mobley: It’s pretty much the same with all of our associations. Most of ours do look geographically at a rotation between central, Midwest and west.
EXPO: How have your events changed over the last few years?
Muldoon: They’ve continued to grow because there’s been a lot of growth in health care and our field. There has been a lot of new money as a result of the federal stimulus funding in 2008 and 2009.
Crockett: A lot of our attendees are in the academic world and their institutions have cut travel funds. That’s always a big issue, and that’s probably across the board. Fortunately, folks have to have their CME (continuing medical education).
Mobley: Attendees are more selective, especially if they’re not getting funding from their facilities. If they’re paying on their own, I do feel that they’re getting a little more selective.
EXPO: Did the changes to the PhRMA and AdvaMed codes over the last four or five years have an impact on your show?
Crockett: Regulations about commercial support just continue to get more and more strict. Those are guidelines we have to follow and we’re fortunate that we don’t accept commercial support for our scientific meetings. It takes us out of that necessary loop in terms of the reporting.
Mobley: It hasn’t affected the nurses as much as it has the physician-based organizations. We’re still getting sponsored symposia.
Muldoon: We’ve seen pharmaceutical support drop off over the last decade. Pharma’s contribution has radically changed. They used to be able to give you pretty much a blank check.
EXPO: Have you had to find other ways to make up for the revenue that might have been lost?
Muldoon: Luckily, the pharmaceutical industry is really only one of many players. There are many, many federal agencies, and they have a whole other set of challenges.
EXPO: What about any changes triggered by the Affordable Care Act?
Muldoon: The Affordable Care Act brings a lot of attention to health care. There’s a lot of investment, especially concentrated in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They have a lot of money to spend on demonstrations and research projects, but there’s so much more federal scrutiny on how that money is spent.
Mobley: We don’t see as many big sponsorships any more. That’s where I see it. Or they’re all merging. You’d always see a lot of the big names as sponsors of events or their names on the tote bags, and you just don’t see that anymore.
EXPO: Has that federal scrutiny had an impact on you?
Muldoon: It did right before our Orlando meeting last June. All of a sudden, there was scrutiny from Congress on federal government participation in association-sponsored events. We had some federal agencies where many, many of their staffs attend our events to present their work and talk to their colleagues.
EXPO: How has your job as an event planner in the health care sector changed over the last few years?
Muldoon: This meeting was started in 1982. I’ve been going to or running it since 1991. There’s a lot that’s exactly the same as then.
Crockett: We’re so fortunate because we have not been impacted as dramatically as others. However, seeing travel funds diminish and being more open to how we can reach out and support our members, and non-members, by moving into hybrid events and various online CME opportunities we can provide, we’re looking into all of those types of things.
EXPO: Do you have any advice for other health care event planners?
Crockett: Stay on top of what’s going in the industry and be proactive. Set stricter guidelines on yourself than the industry is calling for at the moment because you know that’s going to be the next step.
Muldoon: There’s so much opportunity now with technology and so many ways to gather people and communicate with them. You can really serve people’s different needs. That’s what’s changed. There’s a tremendous opportunity. It gives you a great way to fill in the rest of the year: Have a two-pronged approach and do both face-to-face and virtual.