Prior to COVID-19, the average physician received 18 medical meeting invitations per year and attended nearly half, according to research from American Express Meetings & Events. But for a community that has been thrust into the center of a global health crisis, it is unlikely that many physicians will be attending in-person meetings for the remainder of the year.
"Pre-pandemic, I attended 12 or more meetings a year but for the next six to 12 months, the answer is unequivocally no, we're not going to adhere to that statistic," said Dr. Shawn Tsuda, M.D., a general surgeon based in Las Vegas, during a recent webcast from the Event Leadership Institute about the future of medical meetings. "The average age of physicians is 51 and one-third is over 60, so that's a high-risk group that might not want to travel to medical meetings. And many large health-care systems have banned travel for their employees."
Digital events have sprung up as a viable meeting option for many industries for the time being, but hosting and attending virtual meetings is harder for those in the health-care community, many of whom are fighting on the front-lines of the pandemic or dealing with a backlog of appointments and elective surgeries. For those who are able to step away and tune into virtual meetings, fully capturing their attention and maintaining engagement can be a struggle.
"We have started to see virtual increasing as an industry," said Michael Varlotta, senior director of commercial operations for Janssen Pharmaceuticals. "But just because somebody attends a virtual meeting doesn't mean they're listening and learning. I always say, "if you educate in the woods and no one is around to hear it, did you really educate?'"
As medical meeting planners prepare for a new digital world, the panelists warned that the health-care compliance regulations that were crafted for in-person events still apply in the virtual realm. In fact, joint guidance issued in July by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America states that remote attendees should sign a digital consent form and that companies should provide disclaimers for virtual booths, which explain how the material was developed and that the content might not be applicable for the attendee's country.
"We had to jump quickly into this, so nobody really gave thought to the legal liabilities of virtual meetings. But it is paramount that you look at [the guidance] because it is affecting every one of you and how you're doing virtual meetings," said Pat Schaumann, manager/consultant of life sciences development for McVeigh Global Meetings & Events. Schaumann also noted that open payment regulations still apply and that planners must consider how the General Data Protection Regulation will affect their digital meetings. For example, sessions that are recorded and archived must be GDPR-compliant.
To help planners better navigate health-care compliance regulations and plan for future meetings, the panelists recommended pursuing industry certifications, such as the Certified Meeting Professional – Healthcare. Such certifications can provide planners with key knowledge on the regulations, laws and best practices of conducting health-care-focused meetings; that has become all the more invaluable as the current crisis makes meeting planning more complicated than ever.
"It's a great time to invest in your future," said Schaumann. "I can't say enough about education. There are great programs and webinars. Invest the time and invest in yourself."