Blog | Monday, April 16, 2012

Questioning the value of major medical meetings

The American College of Physicians conducts its annual meeting this week, and to kick off its coverage, ACP Internist plays the contrarian and notes that not everyone thinks such events are needed.

A viewpoint in the Journal of the American Medical Association got to the heart of the matter, saying that such meetings' commercial worth has overtaken their educational value.

The author's points include:
--The bulk of material presented at meetings are abstracts that aren't peer reviewed and never become full articles, yet can quickly spread inaccurate information. Ditto for "late breaker" sessions.
--Meetings create monopolies of expression for opinion leaders and passive listening for the rest of the attendees.
--Drug and device makers take advantage of the pooled audience with side symposia of their own, and meeting leadership often have conflicts of interest.
--Meetings require large amounts of natural resources to attend, and in-person education often serves smaller workgroups better.

Of interest to internists, the evidence-based physicians that they are, is that the viewpoint's author proposes a randomized, controlled trial.

"[I]f there is uncertainty and equipoise about the utility or lack thereof of medical congresses, it may be time to perform formal studies to assess what types of meetings or other methods for research dissemination and education work best in training excellent physicians, improving medical care, and controlling cost," the author concluded. "The next step probably would be to randomize the first meeting."

In response to the viewpoint in JAMA, at least one health care professional said she finds value in major medical meetings. "I find it helpful to hear the unfiltered, spontaneous comments and questions raised at the posters and presentations of research that is a different perspective and adds to the formal bodies of work and editorials that are published later or never published. Hands on simulation training, small discussion groups in live settings with those in varied practice settings seems to offer a complement to what may be available virtually or locally."

Do you agree or disagree? Join the conversation online at ACP's Special Interest Groups, even if you're not joining ACP at the meeting.