The Future of Healthcare Meetings and Education

On Episode 14 of the CEOnly Podcast, Association Forum’s president and CEO sat down for a rich, thought-provoking interview with Dave Lutz.

By Michelle Mason, CAE, FASAE


Dave Lutz Founder & Managing Director Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

Dave Lutz is the founder and managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, a business improvement firm that helps conference and trade show organizers grow or transform their major face-to-face conferences. Prior to going down the consulting road, Dave was with Experient for 22 years, where he served as president of both the Meeting Planning and Registration divisions. Dave is a frequent industry speaker and for over twelve years, he has authored a monthly column in PCMA’s Convene magazine on performance improvement for annual conferences and trade shows.

On Episode 14 of the CEOnly Podcast, Association Forum’s president and CEO sat down for a rich, thought-provoking interview with Dave Lutz.

The conversation touched on the evolving needs of medical and healthcare conferences, including the need for fresh takes on the peer-reviewed abstracts. Below, FORUM presents just a part of that conversation. For the full interview, download and subscribe to the CEOnly Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

Mason: Recently, you wrote an article on patient-centered care conferences. To start, what is a patient-centered care conference?

Lutz: The idea of patient-centered care really comes from the Affordable Care Act—the next evolution is having reimbursement subject to patient outcomes, as opposed to treatments. There’s no question that when you talk to people who are looking at how to improve the U.S. healthcare system, being performance-based is an area that they believe is the next horizon. While we’re not quite there yet, they do believe that that’s the direction that people are moving in. I think what’s happening in the medical space is that it’s definitely becoming more of a team sport. It’s more team-centered care that’s focused on the patients versus the focus being on the actual treatment and reimbursement.

Mason: How are associations responding to this new, evolving trend?

Lutz: Many scientific and healthcare meetings are taking a good, hard look at their future and trying to decide how can they be relevant moving forward. Often, science is published in journals and you wait 30 days to get the latest and greatest peer-reviewed articles, as opposed to what we get at meetings. I think what many healthcare associations are seeing is some adjustments in their exhibits and sponsorships. There’s a lot of cutbacks on investments and exhibit footprints, because healthcare exhibitors are trying to decide if that’s the most effective way for them to get noticed and to hopefully increase their exposure or be more prescribed.

In most industries, that’s okay, because sponsorship is such a great outlet and it’s a growing revenue stream for many of our customers, but it’s not so prevalent in healthcare because due to all the rules and regulations. What we end up getting is less effective investments in advertising and the like. The revenue business models are getting somewhat disrupted in many health-care conferences. That’s also playing out in another way where many pharmaceutical and medical device companies previously paid significant, mostly non-member rates to bring international contingencies to some of the larger healthcare conferences. What we’ve seen through analyzing numerous years is that those numbers have gone way down and those revenues, which were once significant, are now much less for almost every major healthcare conference.

Mason: I read in an article that you wrote that you believe that peer review for conference abstracts is inefficient and stifles innovation. Why do you believe that?

Lutz: Peer review is very much an inefficient, yet very accepted, form of publishing. What we see with most medical conferences, upwards of 50-60% of the attendees are actually on the pro-gram. We call those meetings, ‘speakers speaking to speakers.’ What happens is that many of those conferences will accept abstract submissions, then usually a certain portion, maybe 10% or so, might become what’s called oral abstracts. Those are basically sessions where there’s one abstract after another in rapid fire with very little collaboration.

Then, almost all of the rest of the submissions are accepted, but they are put on as poster presentations. So, the quality filters are very low. Usually, for most medical or healthcare conferences, they’re accepting almost every single submission, but everybody’s paying that full rate. When you start peeling back the layers of the onion and you examining who’s coming, then we start seeing some of the business model challenges. What many of these conferences have become is more academic and scientific conferences. They’re primarily professors at universities, students and residents. What you see very little of is the mid-career professional who’s doing a lot of the work. You’re also seeing a lot less private practice participation, because a lot of private practices, whether it be dentist offices or family practices, are becoming part of larger hospital systems or networks, because they can’t afford to do many of the little things that are required to keep up with regulations and insurance.

The big question that is being raised is how much healthcare conferences should focus on advancing the scientific needs versus how much should they focus on patient-centered matters or practice improvement areas, which may not be CE qualified.

Mason: How is technology impacting this evolution and empowering patients?

Lutz: There’s telemedicine and patients are increasingly being given the ability to monitor your own healthcare. Many of these things are very new and we haven’t seen the full impact on how they evolve care. The impact on meetings and healthcare associations is going to be more lagging. No question, you can’t fight it. You need to find ways to enable it and to learn from it and help your members learn, because it is the future. Patient empowerment is a big deal in the health insurance space in particular. They want patients to take more control of their own health and we’re seeing large amounts of money being put into these initiatives. On the technology side, there’s entire conferences that are being created around investments in healthcare technology. It’s like the wild west right now, and I think there’s going to be a lot of changes coming forward.

Mason: What are your thoughts about the future of learning? With these trends and issues, are you optimistic?

Lutz: For the most part, the individuals who pursue the health-care field do so because of a passion for making a difference, and with that comes a very strong commitment to learning. What I think is awesome about healthcare is that it takes special people to be in that profession. They need to go through years and years of learning, which helps set them up as lifelong learners more so than other professions.

We’ve done a lot of research recently on peer-review, returning to that topic for a moment. There was a gentleman by the name of Michael Jubb, who wrote a research article called, “Peer Review: The Current Landscape and Future Trends.” He put forth this idea that there’s growing opportunities for researchers to publish non-peer-reviewed articles for review in an open environment. That really struck us when we were doing research on the efficiency or inefficiency of peer review. We realized that many scientific journals will cover research that has been completed—and completed is the key term—but most conference abstracts, ideally, should cover work that’s in progress.

I think the future for healthcare education, especially from the scientific angle, is to look for work that’s in progress and make that work better in an open environment. If you go to healthcare conferences and you sit in these rooms where these abstracts are being delivered, you’re getting peppered with information. Each abstract might be 13 minutes with 60 seconds of Q&A, and then here comes another one. There’s five or six in an hour and a half. Researchers are proud of their work and can’t wait to present it, but it would be great if they went in with the perspective of seeking improvement for work that is in progress.

About the Author

Interview by Michelle Mason, CAE, FASAE, President and CEO, Association Forum.

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