Health Care Meetings: Grappling With New ChallengesOctober 1, 2013

Resourceful Planners Discover Solutions By
October 1, 2013

Health Care Meetings: Grappling With New Challenges

Resourceful Planners Discover Solutions
The Cleveland, OH-based Global Center for Health Innovation showcased current and future spaces in the facility at its recent ribbon-cutting ceremony. Credit: GCHI

The Cleveland, OH-based Global Center for Health Innovation showcased current and future spaces in the facility at its recent ribbon-cutting ceremony. Credit: GCHI

As we head into 2014, one of the big issues facing medical meeting planners is the introduction of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, or what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service now calls the National Physician Payment Transparency or “Open Payments” program.

Janet Cooper, CMP, director of convention operations for the Oak Brook, IL-based Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), has enough on her plate as the organizer of what is the largest medical meeting in the U.S. — RSNA’s annual medical meeting, which attracts 50,000 attendees and takes place the week after Thanksgiving at McCormick Place in Chicago. But “the changes that are taking place in health care delivery and reimbursement, and compliance issues” (like the “Open Payments” program) affect her members and exhibitors, Cooper says, and continue to pose a challenge to medical association planners.

Starting in August this year, manufacturers of drugs and medical devices that participate in federal health care programs are required to report certain payments and items of value given to physicians and teaching hospitals. This means that planners from those organizations will have to track payments ranging from travel, lodging and food and beverage, to speaker’s honoraria, meeting and event space rental, consulting fees and charity donations.

The act was promulgated as an effort to halt the lavish spending on physicians by drug and device manufacturers in order to influence them to buy their products, says Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, president of Meeting I.Q. in St. Louis, and the founder of the International Medical Meeting Professionals Association (IMMPA). “And if you’ve been in the industry for as long as I have, you’ve certainly experienced that — seen the lavish spending and exotic trips. So it’s definitely a good thing to mandate transparency in order to show, for example, what a pharmaceutical company is spending on a doctor.”

But the impact on meetings will be significant, she says, and that impact will extend to medical associations and their meeting planners.

The Big Impact

Where association planners will see a big impact is with sponsored events, says Schaumann. (See ViewPoint on page 8.)Manufacturers have typically sponsored things ranging from receptions and dinners to lanyards, pen and other tchotchkes. “Whatever it is, if it’s sponsored by a drug or device manufacturer, and the manufacturer reaches a spending threshold of $10 per physician, that will have to be reported.”

Consequently, Schaumann points out, these companies are cutting back on what in the past they would have provided during association meetings. “So that’s a big impact on health care associations in that in the past they’ve counted on that input for years,” Schaumann says. “All of sudden (planners) don’t have the money or products for these events that used to be hosted. They have operating budgets they’ve been using for five, 10 or even 20 years based on that input from sponsors and all of a sudden that’s gone, so there is a financial effect.”

While there is no responsibility on the part of medical trade shows or association organizers to report spending, the chances are, Schaumann says, that they will do what they can to help make that reporting burden easier for their exhibitors.

For example, for reporting purposes manufacturers are required to collect the National Provider Identification (NPI) from physicians, which is something that some associations and trade shows are already doing for their exhibitors.

Or, if exhibitors at an association meeting are having a function at a restaurant, planners can be a useful resource in helping them understand what a modest meal is under the compliance guidelines.

That can be a tricky issue, considering there’s bound to be regional differences in what constitutes a modest meal — a dinner in New York City is bound to be more expensive than one in Omaha.

Deborah Hinson, chief brand strategist/partner of the Hinson Group LLC in New Orleans, and current president of the International Medical Meeting Professionals Association, also points out that living within that modest guideline is a challenge.

“Years ago ‘modest’ was put out as $100 for a three-course meal with two glasses of wine, inclusive of tax and services — $125 for a market like New York City,” she says. “That hasn’t changed in years, and the guidelines are comparable for breakfast and lunch.

“So it’s interesting to see how we’ve become more creative (in planning meals) considering that commodity prices have increased over the last four or five years, labor rates have increased, and utility rates have gone up,” she adds. “But what goes as a modest meal has remained flat. That’s not anything that’s new for 2014, but it’s something we constantly have to deal with.”

Value in Attending Face-to-Face

Jeanne Mendelson, an association executive at SmithBucklin currently working as the COO for Washington, DC-based Lamaze International, says that as a consequence of the Sunshine Act and other compliance challenges that have hit medical and health care meetings, associations have started to look at “repositioning the support” from the industry so that support is targeted at the association rather than the meeting.

“And that makes a huge difference in retaining those dollars over the year by using technology to be able to extend the learning and connectivity (achieved at meetings) and retain that support beyond the meeting,” she says.

Planners also are concerned that compliance issues — as well as other changes in the health care environment that impact things like physician reimbursement — can have a negative impact on attendance, “so that maintaining attendance in light of that is something we’re all working really hard on,” says Hinson.

It helps, says Mendelson, that younger physicians and health care professionals are seeing value in attending face-to-face medical meetings, which, she says, is helping to increase or maintain meeting attendance. “And we’re also seeing an increase in international attendance as well,” she points out.

On the other hand, adding virtual components to medical meetings not only helps medical meetings survive, it’s making them stronger, Mendelson says. “We’re getting ahead by using virtual conferences, virtual civic halls and other virtual components (that have been sponsored) throughout the year, connecting those things to a meeting, but before and after as well.”

She does see a shift in the way that exhibition halls are being used. “I think exhibitors are seeing less value in just sitting in a booth on the exhibit floor,” she says. “Industry support is there, and they still want to attend the meeting, but they’re being more proactive, whether it’s by using technology through sponsorships or education symposia sponsorships, rather than just sitting in a booth waiting for people to walk by. The old-fashioned trade show floor is still a prime place to showcase products and services, but I think people see value in utilizing meetings in more holistic ways.”

RSNA 2013

While Cooper has concerns about the effect “Open Payment” and other compliance issues has on her annual meeting, the other challenges she deals with are multiplied by the sheer size of the Chicago event. Roughly half of the 50,000 attendees are health care-related professionals.

According to Cooper, planning for each annual meeting begins 18 months before the event takes place, “so that while everyone is working on the current year, planning for the following year has already begun.” For most of the 12 staff members in RSNA’s meeting department, 80 percent of their time is spent on planning for the annual meeting, Cooper says.

Like many medical meetings, RSNA has added a virtual component. The inaugural RSNA virtual meeting launched in 2011 with the goal of establishing an expanded environment of the RSNA annual meeting to further engage members, nonmembers, international professionals, students and commercial vendors from across the globe.

According to Cooper, the virtual meeting attracted 3,492 registrants and offered one day of streaming live content from nine approved courses and sessions for continuing medical education (CME) credit. She says that through the 2011 survey results, they learned that content was king, and that attendees wanted access to more educational content and a simpler user interface.

So in 2012, the educational program was expanded to include access to seven days of streaming live content from 46 approved courses and sessions for CME credit, with the recorded content available on demand for the duration of the week of the physical meeting. Planners also added exhibitor product theater demonstrations. Consequently, more than 6,900 registered for the virtual meeting in 2012.

The RSNA 2013 virtual meeting offers another robust education program, Cooper says, featuring seven days of streaming live content from 40+ courses and sessions for CME credit, access to “Case of the Day,” digital education exhibits and scientific posters and the exhibitor product theater.  The meeting will be able to be accessed via computer, iPad, tablet or mobile device, and at the request of the 2012 virtual meeting registrants, content captured through live streaming will be extended. Attendees can catch sessions they missed for on-demand viewing through December 13, a full week after the meeting ends.

Engagement opportunities between the virtual and physical audience include: Twitter, chat, interactive RSNA Diagnosis Live and audience response sessions, and the ability to ask questions of the speakers during the live sessions.

According to Cooper, in order to demonstrate the value of the meeting’s education content and to offset incurred expenses, the RSNA board established a registration fee structure for all members and non-members accessing the virtual meeting. For RSNA members, it’s $100. For non-members, it’s $300. And for RSNA member-in training, medical student members or retired members, it’s free.

Technical Challenges

Even after years of utilizing the largest convention center in North America — McCormick Place in Chicago — RSNA’s annual meeting still faces technical challenges. In the past, Wi-Fi connectivity has been an issue and one that meeting organizers continue to try to improve. “We hired an external consulting firm to help us with Wi-Fi,” says Cooper. “They not only worked with us and McCormick Place to better utilize the existing Wi-Fi gear, but they also increased the density of Wi-Fi in areas that were lacking. But Wi-Fi services were still not up to the level we expected.”

So, Wi-Fi continues to be a challenge as RSNA heads into the 2013 annual meeting. “McCormick has totally upgraded their system, and we’re hiring another consultant to help oversee the implementation,” Cooper says. “Our other challenge is working with McCormick Place to acquire a second Internet service provider so that we have redundancy.”

What else is new for this year’s RSNA? “We will continue to focus on our user friendliness by making a very large convention feel small and intimate,” Cooper says. “Enhancements have been made to our mobile app and annual meeting central website using a responsive web design based on the user’s screen size, platform and orientation. Users can search courses by subspecialty, author, time, date, keyword search, in addition to searching technical exhibitors by products and services with visual walking paths.”

Now, with their mobile devices, Cooper says attendees can have an even richer meeting experience — from enhanced education exhibits to answering “Cases of the Day” to the popular game sessions including RSNA Diagnosis Live.

She also points out that new for RSNA — but not new to the medical meetings industry — is the opportunity for attendees to document their attendance, evaluate courses and sessions and claim their continuing education credits online. The link will be accessible through the RSNA website, mobile app and on computers at McCormick Place.

“Our Mobile Connection booth in the RSNA Services, will feature ‘Navigating RSNA 2013’ discussions conducted in seven languages, and led by veteran meeting attendees who will provide insight and guidance to help our international attendees make the most of their meeting experience,” Cooper adds. “And we will be offering a professional portrait studio in the RSNA Services area where attendees can get a fresh new headshot for their CV or social media profiles from a professional photographer.”

RSNA 2013 also will enhance its greening efforts by replacing the traditional plastic meeting bag with a reusable tote, Cooper says, and is enhancing the McCormick Place dining list to include listing by location and by cuisine, so that attendees can search according to whether they’re looking for something vegetarian, ethnic or even gluten free. AC&F


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