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Doctor's orders: how healthcare professionals like their meetings

Meetings play a vital role in a Healthcare Provider’s (HCP) career-long quest for education, according to American Express Meetings & Events’ White Paper which explores what impacts and influences HCPs’ decision to attend medical meetings and what matters most to them about content and meeting design. 

In 2017 there were approximately 1,800 accredited Continuing Medical Education (CME) providers that offered 162,000 educational activities.

The new survey digs deeper than previous work with a qualitative approach designed to uncover deeper nuances about meeting preferences. 

In-depth interviews were held with 12 HCPs across specialties in North America and Europe to understand how they learn about medical meetings, decide which ones to attend, and what their preferences are for content and the meeting format.

So, how do physicians decide which meetings to attend?

Priorities

HCPs place the most weight for their attendance decision on the meeting’s reputation. Reputation has layers of complexity, but HCPs believe that a meeting’s content - which is a combination of knowledgeable speakers and the latest research and insights - is the strongest influencer of its reputation. 

The other strong consideration factor is the proximity of the meeting, with the goal being to minimise time away from home and their work. 

“If you run a very poor meeting, it will take you four or five years to recover. Because word gets around that fast,” was one comment. 

The message is clearly to make your meeting memorable. 

So many invitations 

On average, HCPs receive 16 invitations to medical meetings a year and attend roughly eight. Some HCPs even claim to receive up to five invitations a day to meetings or events. 

Dinner meetings were less popular because they are often at the end of a physician’s long day at work. 

Pharma-sponsored meetings were viewed as valuable sources of information, but some HCPs wonder if the content is truly objective. 

“Pharma companies also give us good information in their meetings but sometimes, it is more towards their drug. It’s a marketing thing too,” was one survey comment.  

National/international congresses are viewed as more focused on a specific topic area and good places to meet new people in an area of study. 

A key takeaway for meetings owners is the importance of the invitation breaking through the noise and the inbox. 

The advice for meeting owners seems to be: focus on the meeting topic and include prominent speakers by name. Pay attention to what subject line, time of day, and format gets the best response. 

Conference organisers are urged to target content and add sessions that provide more depth in a topic area and increase the quality of speakers. When sponsoring an HCP, they need to ensure content needs to be objective and the data needs to be transparent to ease any worry about bias. 

Guidelines, funding and policy

While HCPs have an awareness of regulations like Transfer of Value (ToV), Sunshine Act, and EFPIA HCP Code, they don’t have much insight into what gets reported by pharmaceutical companies. In some ways, regulations relieve the burden on the HCP to justify attending, and certain words like ‘spa resort’ rule out certain venues of course.

Some organisations require their HCPs to seek approval to attend all meetings, while others only have to if they are using organisational funding. 

Ultimately, HCPs value the opportunity to get CME and exposure to other experts in their industry and noted that their patients rarely ask them about their relationships with pharmaceutical companies. 

“The industry has tended to vilify the efforts of the corporations that manufacture products that we use. We cannot change the fact that without their products, we really can’t work,” one HCP noted. 

Speakers and topics 

Speakers are warned not to deliver the same content over and over every year and a cardinal sin, says one respondent, “is when someone stands there and reads a slide. You’ve lost them at the second slide.” 

Resoundingly, the HCPs interviewed were looking for clinical applications they could take back and apply. They have an expectation that they’ll learn a new technique or treatment at the meeting. 

Sharing is caring

Live demos or recordings of new devices or new techniques are most sought after. 

One surgeon noted a demonstration that used virtual reality to navigate vessels, which is not something being used with patients yet, as an example of a very future-looking procedure that was popular with attendees. 

Social media sharing is good not only for attendees, but also as an immediate way to share information with colleagues back home, the HCPs noted. 

It’s understandable that physicians have high expectations for education considering they’ve spent more time in classrooms and as residents than many other professionals. Helping patients requires they stay informed of the latest guidelines, treatments, and trends. 

Agency view

Dom Bemrose, business development director at The Turner Agency, which specialises in healthcare events, says that even the word ‘incentive’ can see organisers in trouble and that the focus must always be CME. “Anyone who uses the word ‘incentive’ in the healthcare events world causes alarm bells to ring,” says Bemrose. 

“The most important thing for any HCP when attending conferences is the educational content, and that will always be the priority for when choosing events to attend. It’s common conduct for organisers around the world to clearly specify that educational content is the reason the event is taking place, it’s not nice hotels or nice destinations. HCPs will be looking at the content being delivered.”

Organisers can enhance the content and make it more appealing to HCPs; such as rostering key opinion leaders or leaders from their field.”

Bemrose notes that there has been a shift in how content is tailored for events, with a surge in popularity for personalised content. He says: “Things we’re starting to see more of is personalisation of the agenda. Through registration software and through apps it is possible to find out what is of more interest to delegates within their own field. This information can be used to put on further breakout discussions or panels for example.”

Expectedly, CME remains the core purpose of healthcare events, and Bemrose agrees, but how this content is marketed is subject to tight compliance regulations. Bemrose adds: “Of course, CME is another factor that will draw HCPs to events as they are awarded points. What organisers must be really careful about is the ‘incentivisation’: is the incentive the destination or the venue. For example, you can’t use a meeting room at a famous sporting venue as this can be viewed as an incentive. 

“Organisers must ensure they are using the right words in their invitations, and that the educational content must match those you are inviting. Sponsors must be sure they are targeting the right audience, although it doesn’t mean they can’t talk about their product, they just have to be careful it’s not promotional.” 

Venue view on compliance

Linda Best, International Associations account director at the ICC, Birmingham 

Our approach is unapologetically systemic, as this ensures we’re always up to speed with all the latest laws and compliance within our own industry and indeed best practice.

For healthcare events, as with any other, there are three parties that need to be considered when meeting regulations – venue, organiser and exhibitors. We need to ensure organisers know their role and their responsibilities and can certify exhibitors meet their own obligations. An example of this is GDPR; a compliancy still in its infancy but important for our customers so we have been on hand to help and provide guidance from an NEC Group perspective.

There will always be limitations and strict compliancy regulations healthcare event organisers are bound by. Our knowledge of the market by working closely with organisers in the sector can help them achieve the greatest event possible. 

Security for our organisers and delegates as well as working safely within our venue continues to be our top priority.