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7 Steps to Finding the Right App for Large Medical Conferences

Not all apps can handle the size and complexity of large national and international medical meetings. These tips will help you find one that can.

There is only one reason that attendees download an event app: convenient access to your conference program with the ability to build a personal event schedule. Everything else is secondary. Everything!

If your meeting app crashes every few seconds because it can’t handle your 1,000-plus abstracts, it doesn’t matter that it offered the coolest game, displayed the sexiest social feed, or was cheaper than other proposals. Your attendees will loathe your technology choice—and they won’t hesitate to publicly criticize your organization for it.

Be your attendees’ hero. Give them a reliable and easy-to-use event app.

Time to Ditch the RFP
Requests for proposal and vendor demos can’t convey a true sense of what attendees will experience. Try the apps yourself, and use these tips to help differentiate generic event apps from specialized conference apps for academic meetings.
1. Take Size Seriously
Not every app can handle the needs of large meetings with thousands of sessions or poster presentations. Look for app vendors that have experience working with large and complex medical or scientific meetings.
Tip: Ask vendors to send you at least three store links to recent apps (no older than one year) that contain a similar number of sessions and presentations to your event’s.
2. Cut the Connection
If you’ll have thousands of attendees and limited Internet service at the venue, make sure your app can support core functionality without Wi-Fi.
Tip: Switch your device to airplane mode and try to add sessions to your agenda, create notes, use search, find rooms on the map, and look up exhibitors.

3. Review the Reviews
It’s generally good advice to stay away from apps with lower than three-star reviews.
Tip: Read all the app store reviews and app-related tweets. Look for comments that complain about crashing, slowness, issues with data updates, incorrect search results, losing schedules or notes, etc. However, keep in mind that some comments refer to features that could have been implemented but the meeting organizer didn’t purchase them. Also, comments about logging in or continuing medical education integrations may not necessarily be related to the event app, but instead the integration with the registration or association management system vendor. 

4. Audit the Search
Many meeting apps offer a search that is too simplistic for medium to large healthcare meetings. They may only give you half the results without you even realizing it—it’s like printing your proceedings book, then ripping out some pages before handing the program to your attendees.
Tips: Check to see if your app has a scientific search engine:
• Are you limited to one single global search? Each list view (sessions, speakers, exhibitors, abstracts) should have its own search for convenience.
• Long search terms are easy to mistype on a mobile device. Start entering the first few letters of a long technical term. Does the app present search suggestions?
• Your attendees know what they don’t want. When you search for a term, can you add an exclusion term to get rid of results you are not interested in?
• Can you apply multiple filters to your search results?
• How quickly do search results appear? Ideally, it should be in less than three seconds.
• Does it support diacritic search? Look through the speaker’s list and find a speaker with an accent mark. (If there is none, check with the vendor that this is not a limitation of the event app. Speaker’s names should be spelled with the correct accents and UTF-8 characters should be supported.) Now, access the agenda session lists or the global search and enter the speaker’s name one time with and one time without the accent. Do the correct results appear?
• Is the search customized so that regional spelling differences don’t cause missed results? Can you use synonyms and still find the correct results (e.g., searching for either coeliac or celiac should return the same results)?
5. Loathe Loading …
Avoid apps that download data updates in the foreground. Any delay in using the app itself is magnified at your event as most conference venues have notoriously slow Wi-Fi when the meeting is large.
• When you start your app test, pay attention to when you receive data updates after the initial install. Do you have to wait longer than three seconds to load new data? Do you have to manually check for data updates?
• Look for the ability to easily update your own event program 24/7 from a content management system.
6. Fill Schedule Gaps
Medical and scientific meetings with several thousand poster presentations must offer a variety of ways to easily build and manage a personal schedule. Attendees need to visually see gaps in their schedule and instantly know if you are offering any events during those gaps.
Tip: You should now have several sessions scheduled in each app you are considering. Test how easy each app can handle the following scenarios:
• Can you see a list of sessions on <pick a day during the event>, only in the afternoon, and of only a particular topic area or session type?
• Can you immediately see gaps in your schedule and if there is anything else going on during that time?
• At a typical scientific meeting, attendees schedule 30-50 poster presentations in one day. How does your visual schedule display that?

7. Navigate Complex Program Layers
Many medical and scientific events require multiple browsing layers from color-coded types, e.g., eposters versus orals, to a session sub-level since a poster session may hold a large number of 10-minute presentations, each with its own presenters, handouts, session number, poster board location, ability to schedule, surveys, ratings, CE or CME credits, etc.
Tip: Can you easily differentiate between posters, sessions, topics, and tracks?

Bonus Tip
Talk to references who have worked with this vendor for more than two or three years. In addition to attendee and organizer satisfaction, key questions should involve data management, integration with abstract or registration vendors for data import, authentication management, CE or CME options, project support, etc. 

Silke Fleischer is CEO and cofounder of ATIV Software, which provides the EventPilot app.

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