Jonathan Spero, M.D., is the founder/CEO of InHouse Physicians. He regularly supports some of the highest profile corporate sales, incentive and executive programs around the world, including the Olympic Games and World Cup. He is an expert on medical risk management in the meetings industry, health care cost containment in the employer space and a leader in the field of neurobiology of human performance. Visit InHousePhysicians.com
Every meetings professional wants things to get back to normal as soon as possible. The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly painful for the meetings industry. However, is “back to normal” going to be possible? Or do we have to embrace that we must accept a “new normal” in the industry?
Even if the virus magically disappeared today, the persistent fear of this virus will linger like a bad hangover on the meetings industry for quite some time.
A new normal is the best we can expect. And this new normal must address something most meetings professionals rarely prioritize on their pre-con checklist — “health security.” Why? Because the COVID-19 crisis is due to only one thing — health insecurity. And just like any other type of attendee risk, it must be faced head on with a plan that mitigates the threat.
Of course, every meetings professional considers the health of their attendees a priority. However, in practice, they rarely take action to support the health security of their meeting. Though this has been acceptable in the past, the new normal we are living in demands more from meeting professionals.
An effective health security plan must include three fundamental elements: prevention, detection and medical response. The following are seven strategies guided by these foundational elements that meetings professionals should consider when creating a health security plan for their upcoming meetings or events.
Devise a Sick Attendee Policy
The most effective way to protect your meeting from exposure to COVID-19 is to keep ill attendees from coming to the meeting. How do you do this? Sit down with your client well before the program and encourage them to set a clear and effective sick attendee policy. Invite stakeholders in your client’s organization, including human resources, to develop clear communications outlining the policy.
Devise a Mechanism for Monitoring and Enforceability
Respiratory droplets spread COVID-19. These droplets land on surfaces when someone is breathing, speaking or coughing. Other people then touch these droplets and later touch their face. Therefore, frequent disinfection of surfaces is another powerful way to protect your attendees from COVID-19 infection. Proper disinfection/cleanliness should include:
• Scheduled cleaning/disinfection of all meeting surfaces at least twice a day.
• More frequent cleaning of shared attendee surfaces.
• Hand sanitizer stations placed next to all meeting areas and meal locations.
Perform Temperature Checks
Fever is the most common symptom associated with a COVID-19 infection. Temperature checks are an efficient way to screen attendees. They are quick, non-invasive and easy to perform for large groups. Consider screenings at the registration desk and during general sessions, and utilize infrared, no-contact thermometers.
Do Pre-Convention Screening
To support the sick attendee policy, consider hiring a health care partner to perform, in a HIPAA-compliant manner, a brief online COVID-19 screening survey. This screening would funnel “high risk” attendees to a telemedicine hotline that could determine if the attendee may need to get COVID-19 testing before coming to the meeting.
Implement a Wellness Program
Humans are exposed to hundreds of viruses a day. Our most powerful defense from these infectious agents is our magical immune system. So what can meetings professionals do to strengthen attendees’ immune systems? It turns out that your lifestyle choices can affect how well your immune system can protect you from viruses. Create a wellness program for your meetings, which must include components that support sleep, healthy nutrition and stress management.
Implement On-Site Medical Care
One of the three elements of an effective health security plan is the medical response. Meetings professionals must demonstrate to attendees that they have taken the extra step to ensure that sick attendees have access to high-quality, convenient and cost-effective health care. Options include:
• On-site medical care, which can be delivered by vendors in a cost-effective and scalable manner that meets the needs of your group.
• Local urgent care, where meetings professionals can build a relationship with an urgent care nearby. I would discourage relying on emergency rooms that are expensive and very inconvenient.
• Telemedicine, which can be a practical way to address attendee health issues. However, it does not satisfy the ability to perform COVID-19 testing on-site.
Whatever option you choose, it should ideally have the following:
• The ability to provide medical evaluation for flu-related illnesses.
• The ability to perform rapid flu and COVID-19 testing.
• The ability to prescribe and dispense medications.
• The ability to dispense masks for respiratory illnesses.
Create a Communication Strategy
Clear communication needs to be established with attendees and other meeting stakeholders.
• Outline the communication channels available to reach attendees — i.e. email, intranet postings, flyers, posters, videos, blog posts and FAQs — and have a “source of truth” resource where employees can go to for the latest updates.
• Partner with legal, human resources (HR) and other key leadership for timely review, and approval, of all messaging and materials prior to distribution.
• Designate a point person to stay on top of developments, manage the communication process, and receive and respond to employee concerns.
• Establish a line of communication for attendees to submit questions related to prevention and preparedness, and post answers to questions that may be of general interest.
• Establish go-to resources to help distribute key messages and answer attendee questions/concerns.
• Carefully consider your messaging — state the facts, outline the impact and share health security measures being taken.
• Provide ongoing assurance that the organization is safeguarding attendee health in a manner that is appropriately respectful of everyone’s privacy.
• Review communications for content and tone — don’t trivialize or escalate attendee concerns, and be sure to collect/respond to feedback.
• Place links to official news sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on select communications.
• Provide FAQs, talking points and other information, to arm go-to resources with facts and information for your attendees.
• Redirect more complex questions to your client’s HR team.
In summary, the meetings industry does not have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for things to return to normal. The new normal necessitates taking proactive measures to reassure organizations that it is safe and responsible to have meetings again. The concept of health security has traditionally been one associated with public health. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting industry must prioritize health security as an achievable goal for every meeting and event.
This new priority is not solely for the purpose of ensuring the health of the meetings industry, but to protect the world. I&FMM