What doctors want in a medical conference

I received this press release today from Impact Unlimited, called, "Doctors Reveal How They Value a Successful Medical Conference." While they only surveyed 30 physicians—not a huge sampling—it's still kind of interesting. No big surprise, the docs still like freebies and booth giveaways, but I didn't realize that they tend to judge a company's expertise in a clinical area by the size of its booth:

    Dayton, N.J.--October 11, 2005--A focus group convened by Impact Unlimited, a leading events, exhibits, and meetings company, sheds new light on why doctors attend medical conferences, what they like and dislike about the experience, and how pharmaceutical companies can improve their effectiveness. The study‘s unique, previously untapped insights into physicians‘ preferences were unveiled at Impact Unlimited‘s customer symposiums in August.

    “Although attending the conventions for educational sessions, many high prescribers were not making it to convention exhibit floors because they didn‘t value the experience, and we wanted to find out why,” says Sandy Stransky, vice president of Sales for Impact Unlimited. “Now that we have this insightful data, we‘re going to be able to help our customers design more effective exhibit strategies, so the physicians will remember our customers‘ product when they write their next prescription.”

    The focus group, consisting of radiologists, oncologists, neurologists, cardiologists, and primary care physicians, required participants to be prescription-writing physicians who attended at least one national convention supporting their medical specialty in the last two years. The results show how medical conferences succeed in some areas and fail in others, including:

    • The ‘All-in-One‘ Experience. Physicians overwhelmingly attend conventions to gather new information. However, these meetings are also a time to enjoy a vacation from their stressful routine; learn about and present new findings; and examine new drugs, devices, supplies, techniques, and services. As one radiologist surveyed put it: “Conventions provide a lot of info in a relatively small space and time. They do the work of bringing everyone together so you get the maximum bang for your buck.”

    • Opportunities to Network with Colleagues. Physicians see medical conferences as a way to meet peers face-to-face, and discuss developments in their specialty. Moreover, most physicians noted the importance of hearing about new products from colleagues when deciding to purchase or prescribe drugs. “I listen respectfully, but critically, to sales people and people with a commercial bent. I mostly trust colleagues who speak off the record over a cup of coffee,” says a cardiologist who participated in the survey.

    • Exhibits. The exhibit floor is, obviously, a way for physicians to take a break from lectures, network with colleagues, and test new equipment. However, focus group participants say they perceive booth size as a reflection of a company‘s level of success and/or commitment to a disease state. As one oncologist who was surveyed says, “The largest booths tell me who is doing the most in oncology.” Participants also say high-tech, yet professional displays, and interactive audiovisuals also make a booth more appealing.

    • Equipment/Devices. Many physicians, especially neurologists, cardiologists, and radiologists, say they appreciate hands-on opportunities to experience new equipment, compare things side-by-side, and visualize how something might fit their workspace. In the absence of scientific literature on medical equipment, physicians say they see conferences as one of the best ways to learn about new products. “I like to window shop the new technology,” says the aforementioned cardiologist. “Sometimes I have a specific item I need to research, and I like having the opportunity to compare things in real-time by walking the floor from vendor to vendor and going back and forth.”

    • Selling vs. Education. Physicians say time is at a premium at conferences. As a result, many physicians don‘t want to deal with sales reps that lure them into lengthy conversations. They want less selling, with more information and education. “I do not like getting trapped in discussions at booths that I have no real interest in,” says a radiologist who participated in the survey. “On this topic, conventions are very much like the retail experience: you want to look when you want to look, and when you are ready to speak to a sales person you will let them know. Physicians want to engage on their terms,” says Stephen Mapes, Impact Unlimited‘s Vice President of Creative Services.

    • Freebies. Free food and beverages are a big draw, physicians say, since they are otherwise going to have to buy those items anyway. Also, and this is no surprise, many physicians say they bring small items such as pens and pads, back home as gifts. High-value gadgets and electronics, such as laser pointers and PDAs, are also prized. However, physicians say items such as leather goods are often 'ruined‘ by company logos. “A good premium will definitely attract more people. I‘ve had friends direct me toward a specific booth simply because of the premiums,” says a surveyed neurologist.

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