Medical meetings may be forever changed


As most 2020 medical conferences have, one by one, been canceled or rescheduled as virtual meetings in the time of a pandemic, some physicians and other healthcare professionals are wondering if this is the year that will change the scene forever.

Amid the choruses of resignation (“Unfortunately, it’s the right thing to do.”) and optimism (“See you next year!”), there have been plenty of voices describing another broad sentiment – that all was not well with medical meetings even before the coronavirus.

One dominant criticism is that there are too many meetings.

Indeed, there are many, many meetings. During 2005-2015, there were more than 30,000 medical meetings in the United States, according to a report from the Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association.

Most of those are of little value, tweeted Dhruv Khullar, MD, an internist at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York (@DhruvKhullar): “One possible consequence of cancelling so many meetings due to #COVID19 is that we realize we probably don’t need most of them.”

The tweet was liked 1.9K times, which is high for a medical post. Comments were mostly in agreement, with some skepticism.

Michaela West, MD, a surgeon at North Memorial Health, Minneapolis, Minnesota, responded (@MichaelaWst): “Agree. COVID-19 may forever change our perspective regarding medical professional meetings.”

Nwando Olayiwola, MD, chair of family medicine, Ohio State University, Columbus, strongly agreed (@DrNwando): “This is the tweet I wish I tweeted.”

However, Kelly Swords, MD, MPH, urologist, University of California, San Diego, in a dissenting opinion, stated the obvious (@k_dagger): “Except there is no substitute for human interaction.”

Worth the Effort?

The cancellation of medical meetings has given those who regularly attend an opportunity to reassess their value and to question the worth of the effort involved in attending in person.

David Steensma, MD, hematologist-oncologist, Harvard Medical School, Boston, (@DavidSteensma) tweeted that he would like to scale back: “The present crisis is an opportunity to reassess what is actually necessary and rebalance [in terms of meetings].”

Travel to meetings is often unpleasant, said others.

Chris Palatucci, life sciences executive recruiter, Coulter Partners, Boston, tweeted (@LifeSciRcruitr): “I will die a happy man if I never get on another plane. Glorified bus travel.” He also believes that once the coronavirus crisis is over, its “silver lining” will be the realization that “40% of all meetings are unnecessary.”

Many professionals have welcomed the announcements that major conferences have been canceled and will be conducted virtually.

The latest change is from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), whose annual meeting was to be held in Chicago at the end of May but will now be held online.

Virtual ASCO will be more manageable – and comfy, said Fumiko Ladd Chino, MD, radiation oncologist, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

She (@fumikochino) explained why in a recent tweet: “1) I will be finally able to see ALL OF THE PRESENTATIONS I wanted to see instead of wandering around feeling overwhelmed. 2) I will be able to FOCUS on the presentations and not searching for a power outlet. 3) PAJAMAS.”

Virtual meetings already beat real meetings, added Adriana Scheliga, MD, hematologist-oncologist, Brazilian National Cancer Institute (@linfopedia): “I’ve been saying this for a while. For me the best ASCO Meetings, for example, are the ‘virtual meetings!’ ”

However, meetings in place are also very much about professional community and mutual support, reminds Susan E. Sedory, MA, executive director, Society of Interventional Radiology, which canceled its meeting March 6 in a multifaceted process.


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