SmithBucklin Event Director Benjamin Rabe shares his knowledge of the evolving medical, pharmaceutical and healthcare meetings segment and what the future holds.

What is SmithBucklin seeing in the healthcare meetings segment in terms of relevant trends?

Healthcare meetings (for physicians, scientists, clinicians, nurses, allied health or administrative staff) are all affected by the changing workforce.

Attracting younger generations to healthcare professions as well as to the organizations that serve them is the number-one priority for a lot of stakeholders in the industry.

Many of our client organizations are seeing a sea of retirements affecting membership and attendance. They want to ensure the association is viewed as a primary source for education.

To do this, healthcare meetings today are focusing on providing education that younger generations need while also offering networking opportunities and experiences that appeal to them.

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Additionally, the industry is facing mergers and acquisitions that affect the vendor side (sponsors and exhibitors) of healthcare meetings as well as members and attendees.

Where a community once had three independent hospitals serving its residents, there is now one hospital system. This could mean one decision maker instead of three.

Attracting the decision maker to your meeting is key because that’s who the vendors want to see. We’re focused on communicating with the decision maker—before, during, and after the meeting. 

Also, influencers have a powerful impact on the adoption of new products in the healthcare industry.

We are helping vendors identify those influencers and market directly to them through attendee testimonials. Nursing organizations are using video testimonials as part of their vendor outreach efforts.

What are some key things meeting planners should know about the healthcare meetings segment?

Education is the number-one driver for attending these meetings. It’s different from other industries, where networking or viewing new products, for instance, might be their main reason for attending.

In healthcare, attendees value face-to-face education and the ability to earn 15-plus continuing education credit hours in three days. So, the education you provide must be high quality.

Most programs must be accredited, so attendees can maintain licenses and other credentials. It also must be relevant to the changing healthcare climate. Your attendees must be able to return to their hospitals, medical offices or labs and apply what they’ve learned immediately.

For example, the American Society for Health Care Risk Management’s annual conference traditionally offered six concurrent session rooms during the day with the opportunity to earn 16 continuing education credit hours over three days. Additionally, they offered three 7 a.m. programs (We call them “eye openers.”) in two of the concurrent session rooms for attendees who wanted to earn an additional three contact hours.

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For some people, the trade-off of sleep for a total of 19 contact hours is well worth it because they can earn what then need for their credentialing goal in three days and be done.

Another aspect of healthcare meetings (as opposed to business or trade association meetings) is that the attendees are paying out-of-pocket for the registration and travel.

Often, they are not reimbursed by their employer. So, healthcare meeting organizers should be cognizant of costs, especially if they want to attract young professionals.

Look for more hosted-buyer programs, scholarships and young professional discounts.

How are regulations affecting the healthcare meetings segment?

Regulations are the new normal. They are top-of-mind for healthcare associations and their meetings’ organizers. We want to do the right thing, so our meetings will be compliant for our attendees.

The advocacy and government relations arms of these organizations are critical in staying ahead of new government rules and policies that will affect their members and their meetings.

How have meetings in the healthcare meetings segment changed in recent years? What components of meetings in this segment are different than in other segments?

Fueled by new technology, business and trade organizations have been adopting new elements to their conferences that enhance the overall experience. Some healthcare organizations are following suit, which is necessary to attract new members and attendees.

Still, the traditional offerings are valued by attendees. For example, poster sessions, especially for a highly scientific audience, are a critical part of a conference.

We’ve helped to expand poster session hours where attendees connect with presenters and earn additional contact hours, increase dedicated show floor space or changed the location to be more front and center, and provide the technical support for e-posters.

What other thoughts do you have about the segment?

Diversity and Inclusion will continue to be an important part of healthcare meetings.

Some of our client organizations are taking steps to ensure that there is diversity in the makeup of organizations’ board of directors and committee leaders.

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