Medical Meeting Challenge: Health-Care Providers are Tough Crowd

Author: Barbara Palmer       

medical meeting

Health-care providers have high standards for the meetings they attend, according to a recent report by American Express Meetings & Events. (Erickson Stock/Adobe Stock)

What’s most important to physicians when they consider whether or not to attend a medical meeting? In November, American Express Meetings & Events published research based on interviews with 12 physicians who practice in specialties across North America and Europe. For the report, “In-Depth Look at Medical Meeting Content: What Drives HCPs to Attend, Engage and Learn,” the physicians answered questions on their preferences for meeting location, content, and format, among other things.

For help in assessing the report’s conclusions from a medical meeting planner’s point of view, we convened our own expert focus group of one: Joyce Paschall, CAE, CMP-HC, CMM, who most recently was director of education and meetings for the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). Paschall oversaw ACOEM’s annual conference as well as the organization’s educational strategy and managed its continuing medical education (CME) program. She has served for five years as a member and advisor to PCMA’s Medical Meetings Task Force, and has taught meeting and event planning courses at Kendall College in Chicago.

Here are selected takeaways from the report, followed by Paschall’s reactions:


A nice destination and venue will add appeal, but should be chosen with optics in mind. If health-care professionals (HCPs) are sponsored, be sure to abide by regulations on what is allowable for meeting extensions.

Joyce Paschall: A nice destination, but be cautious — that’s very true in my experience and opinion. There may be a few specialties out there who can still make [a meeting] a super fancy, chic kind of thing, but I don’t know any that look at it that way now. It needs to be a destination that services the event, and the destination does drive people’s decisions to go as often as not. But that really doesn’t seem to be the primary way to mar- ket things these days — it just doesn’t look good. The scrutiny of prior years has kind of stuck with all of us.

I found that very few of ACOEM’s members come early or stay late. A few might, but they just don’t have the time. They can’t get away — and stay away — from their practice like that. The extra stuff is almost immaterial.


Reputation is a big part what matters most, so make your meeting memorable and the information of the highest quality. This can be challenging year after year, but keep focused on quality content and top-notch speakers as they often make the biggest impact.

J.P.: I would say that this is absolutely true. At ACOEM, name speakers are not that important, but in general, yes, reputation is important. A reliable, consistent meeting where you know it’s going to be a good event and a good program is important to any meeting of course. But I think reputation makes a big difference to physicians.


While HCPs may not feel they need to know the ins and outs of pharmaceutical meeting regulations, they are counting on meeting organizers to provide a compliant meeting.

J.P.: [Physicians expect planners] to not let them get in trouble, for sure. At ACOEM, it was simple, because there was not enough of a presence of that to make an issue of it. [Physicians] might or might not bother knowing, but they do expect that you are helping them keep their nose clean.


Content is the most critical element to attracting and retaining HCP attendees. To truly stand out, consider a mix of delivery methods for session content such as out-of-the-box learning environments, live demos, and hands-on elements. Consider including sessions that allow for two-way interaction among speakers and attendees as well as attendee-to-attendee interaction.

J.P.: Different types of sessions are good, but I find that people don’t want 1,000-percent interaction. Most of us still sometimes want to sit in a chair and just absorb — especially the introverts among us.

But I do think it’s right that variety is becoming more and more important and more expected and the norm, as long as you can still choose among different things, so you are not forced to interact. I don’t find that people respond well to forced interaction.


Give health-care providers opportunities to network. The HCPs we spoke to were not interested in network- ing to advance their careers. Rather, they cited networking as a critical way to get ad-hoc advice from peers or experts in their industry about a treatment or patient case.

J.P.: I think this is a really important nuance. We all still do this: “Enhance your career, network, network, network.” Maybe that’s for people in the beginning of a career. For me, [networking] is about interacting with my peers and getting a good idea from them, or hearing a neat thought that I can translate and use in my meeting. It’s really about the interaction and that weird hallway discussion where you get an amazing idea that you never might’ve thought of. I think that’s an important point across event planning and I don’t think it’s specific to health-care professionals.

You want the right content and a really good reputation and a reliable meeting and so on, but you also need the right people to be there. I want to know that when I’m going to a meeting, and physicians are no different. They want to know that their peers will be there, that there will be people that they can talk to.


Offer attendees a mobile event app to access session content and make sure the session presentations are available the day of the session as well as after the event. Include any studies or reports referenced during the sessions so that HCPs can review the data’s validity on their own time.

J.P.: You hear in real estate: location, location, location. In meetings, it’s handouts, handouts, handouts. That is the single most frequent refrain — everybody wants the materials there at their fingertips.

I’m always kind of curious, because I know when I go to a meeting, I don’t look at the stuff afterwards. I always mean to and I take notes, but I rarely dig back in. And doctors are probably busier than me. But if we had a quarter for every time somebody comes in and asks where’s the handout, we’d have quite a party by the time it was all added up.

Maybe it’s because they have spent so much more time in classrooms than many other professionals, but health-care providers “are arguably one of the toughest crowds for meeting owners,” the report concluded.

Given such high expectations, Convene asked Paschall, “Is it a commonly held view among medical meeting planners, that it is a really exacting specialty?”

“Absolutely, yes,” Paschall said. For some of her peers, particularly those who are dealing with a regulations, she said, “I don’t know how they get through each day — but they live and breathe this.”

Click the title to download the full report, “In-Depth Look at Medical Meeting Content: What Drives HCPs to Attend, Engage and Learn.”

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