The Future of the Medical Meeting

By Bryan Vartabedian, MD

socialized_medicineI recently co-organized Millennial Medicine, an international meeting on the future of medical education.  The meeting, the speakers and the comraderie was amazing.  But what happened beyond the room was just as interesting.  Our meeting was livestreamed.  This created a lively back-channel dialog with conversation and sharing.

This isn’t news necessarily. But as someone who spent over a year organizing Millennial Medicine, watching the response beyond the people sitting before me was perhaps the most unexpected part of the day.  Long after the IRL audience had gone home, the sharing continued around the meeting’s hashtag.

It’s becoming obvious that meetings are not just places where people gather, but rather they are emerging global conversations. They are human and emotional spaces.  They are borne of ideas and passion, not buildings and chairs.

Sure, there’s clear value by being in the same room with the speakers. Virtual proximity to speakers has real value but never could’ve been conceived of before the age of near synchronous, global dialog.

I might even venture to add that there can be more value in the back channel with one’s own trusted network that in person with people with whom you might have little connection with.  Communication with the audience during a meeting is verboten – with your network, it’s open season.  As was suggested this week on Twitter, the clatter of laptop keys is the new applause – h/t to Lisa Fields for the lively tech imagery (@practicalwisdom).

All of this raises the question about what constitutes a meeting.

Physician-physician communication sits at the cusp of two generations. There’s the last generation that elects to sit and receive information locally through a crackly PA system. Then there’s the generation that wants to interact globally in real-time with focused, self-selected information relevant to its needs.

The term ‘medical meeting’ will evolve to have more historical meaning.  It suggests that the way doctors once related was episodic and isolated.  We would come, then we would go away.  I’m in, I’m out.  Now we’re engaging, now we’re not.  Until we ‘meet’ again.  Now the meeting and the conversation never really end, and our engagement is increasingly continuous.

While planning this meeting, my mindset for a year was focused on the experience of a couple of hundred people coming into a room.  I have to wonder if our frame of reference of what constitutes Millennial Medicine will change next year.

Vartabedian—Bryan Vartabedian, MD, is a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine. He writes the “Socialized Medicine” column for Wing of Zock and blogs at 33Charts.

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