Meetings and Conventions: With Change and Spirit, Survival

Nov 01, 2001

Tamar Hosansky may have a better grasp of the potential impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on pharmaceutical marketing than the Wall Street and media analysts that threaten doomsday scenarios. From her vantage point as editor of Medical Meetings, the outlook isn't as grim as many believe, but changes in continuing medical education (CME), medical association meetings, and conference travel policies are sure to come.

Based on an interview with the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education's President Donald E. Moore, Jr., PhD, and other sources, Hosansky anticipates the proliferation of new CME programming for trauma care, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and especially trauma and PTSD resulting from terrorism. Some organizations are already proving her right.

The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association posted website resources for healthcare professionals to use in educating themselves and their patients. In an internet message, Moore, director of the CME division at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine in Nashville, reminded CME professionals that their industry helps prepare healthcare providers to care for victims and their loved ones and will continue to play a behind-the-scenes role.

Hosansky predicts that the attacks will affect CME for a long time. Providers may increasingly work with local hospitals to promote professional education in disaster planning. They may also incorporate into programming the expertise and experience of international counterparts, who have learned valuable strategies from numerous deadly encounters with terrorism. She suggests that pharma companies with products relevant to bioterrorism and trauma patient care, such as antibiotics, vaccines, and psychopharmacologic treatments, not only boost support of CME activities in those areas but also develop patient education materials about the September 11 disaster for doctors to disseminate.

After gathering information about the attacks' impact on medical association conferences from a long list of sources, Hosansky concludes that although video teleconferencing may make up for some companies' reductions in business travel, it will never replace the value of face-to-face sales force training and exhibiting. She is confident that, despite the knee-jerk predictions of its demise, the medical meetings industry will survive.

"Medical association meetings showed a flurry of cancellations and postponements in September, but most are now going forward for several reasons," she says. "Doctors need their CME credits. And people need to be around other people at this time to bond and network as they never have before. Also, he annual meeting is some associations' biggest revenue source, so they have to go ahead."

Survival, however, doesn't negate change. According to one tradeshow expert, future pharma company exhibits should reflect a subdued tone -more serious and less glitzy. The American College of Emergency Physicians' next conference will include its regular bioterrorism programming, but other agendas have changed. For example, the Internet Healthcare Coalition's annual conference offers a new roundtable on "War on Terrorism: Internet Healthcare Privacy and Security Issues." And the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences scheduled a "grand rounds" on bioterrorism.

Industry attitudes have changed dramatically. Some organizations, such as the American Society of Association Executives, actually rescheduled meetings in Washington, DC, and New York to show their support. The Healthcare Distribution Conference and Expo 2001 postponed its meeting from October until December to allow registrants to continue their involvement with disaster-relief and miltary supply efforts.

Hotels are easing planners' financial burdens by waiving the fees associated with cancellation and attrition. They are also extending group rates beyond the usual cut-off dates. Conferences and meeting venues are beefing up security and communicating their efforts to meeting planners and registrants.

Hosansky cites a statement from the Texas Society for Gastroenterology and Endoscopy explaining that it decided to go forward with its conference because colon cancer and other gastroenterologic disorders are preventable and curable with public education and medical care. The statement also noted that the annual toll of pain, suffering, and death from such diseases exceeds that of any terrorist act.

lorem ipsum