In its “Pharma Medical Affairs 2020 and beyond” report, leading global consultancy McKinsey & Company describes “a rapidly changing world for medical affairs,” with a greater emphasis on defining “what value means from the perspectives of a broad spectrum of healthcare stakeholders” among the trends reshaping the healthcare landscape.

As outlined by the report, education, communications and strategic activities, both internally and externally, are critical tools for getting the word out on today’s “increasingly complex and specialized medical information.”

This has only heightened the role of medical, pharma, scientific and hybrid meetings as critical pathways to the knowledge, especially with McKinsey recommending the “recruitment of and collaboration with traditional key-opinion leaders (KOLs), speakers and investigators,” both in-person and online, plus direct and virtual liaisons and interactions with physicians and training including continuing medical education (CME) credits as key approaches.

Mirroring the changes sweeping the meetings industry at large, innovative new programs are sharpening the relevance, impact and ROI of medical industry meetings—and finding a strong pulse with medical professionals.

“Increasingly, the purely didactic, lecture hall approach is giving way to live, interactive experiences,” said Dr. James Reichheld, a Boston-area gastroenterologist who specializes in liver and pancreatic disorders and regularly attends conferences locally at institutions such as Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Hospital, and at national meetings destinations like Las Vegas. “Whether in the room or via video conferencing from 1,000 miles away, I can ask questions and learn on the spot. That, in my view, is true value.”

From managing regulatory challenges to enhancing the attendee experience, three top event managers and industry experts share their views on today’s leading trends and practices for healthy meetings outcomes.

Pivotal Strengths
Access to key thought leaders, live clinical demonstrations and hands-on interaction were among the defining success factors for the 37th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Silver Spring, Md.-based American Urogynecologic Society (AUGS), the leading organization for practitioners of female pelvic medicine, including pelvic floor disorders and reconstructive surgery.

Held in October 2016 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, this increasingly popular week-long event set an attendance record of some 1,150 physicians, nurses, students, researchers, educators and other medical professionals.

“Unique programs included the live broadcast of three operations, two on living patients and one on a cadaver, by leading surgeons in the field,” said Cynthia Stubits, director of event services for leading Chicago- and Washington, D.C.-based association management and services company SmithBucklin, the event’s manager. “Participants were able to engage the surgeons, all AUGS members, in dialogue as they worked, providing an unprecedented learning opportunity.”

Also featured was video of surgeries completed months earlier, each representing an especially fascinating case.

“Narrated by the surgeons and edited for highlights only, these showcases offered the fuller, post-recovery view,” Stubits said. “As with the live sessions, broadcast from three clinics around the country, feedback on the Q&A session was incredibly positive.”

Featuring top talent and delivering relevant, actionable content are two essential components, Stubits noted, in helping to justify, if not validate, the time and expense of attending medical meetings. Keeping participants interested and engaged is another.

“True of larger meetings trends, medical delegates want hands-on, interactive experiences,” she said. “At the AUGS show, offerings like ultrasound workshops with live volunteers and the chance to test out surgical robots and other new equipment were immensely popular. Lecture-style abstract presentations have their place, but the trend is toward mixing up the show with different, even exciting, elements.”

Featuring digital downloads for CME credits—a meetings perennial, Stubits noted—the show also included programs geared for the 50-plus attending residents and fellows.

“These are the next generation of clinicians—and future meetings participants,” Stubits said. “Through pre-conference receptions, meet-and-greets and other activities, we focused on ways to raise their comprehension and awareness of the networking, learning, professional development and other opportunities that meetings vitally provide.”