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HCPs Weigh In on What Draws Them to Conferences

A new global survey of physicians reports on the reasons HCPs attend events as well as their preferences for certain elements of the in-person experience.

In mid-2023, medical-conference producer Ashfield Event Experiences collaborated with the International Pharmaceutical Congress Advisory Association to determine how healthcare providers’ attitudes towards medical congresses and conventions have evolved during the post-pandemic return of in-person events. The results of that study were issued in early December, in a package titled 2023 HCP Congress Experience Report: Out with the Old, In with the New?

According to a press release from the two organizations, the report is designed to do two things: inform medical-event planners on how to build conventions that deliver maximum impact among HCPs, and enlighten pharmaceutical companies on how to participate at events in a way that appeals to HCPs.

The Ashfield/ICPAA survey gathered both quantitative and qualitative input from 275 HCPs, equally represented across the fields of cardiology, infectious disease, neurology, oncology, and primary care. The participants were from the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Some Compelling Results
First, most survey participants said that they value the virtual-event experience for its ability to “provide new developments and the latest thinking” at the times that they choose, rather than watching sessions online in real time.

Specifically, 37 percent say they mostly or always watch sessions on demand, 32 percent say they watch live and on-demand about equally, and just 23 percent say they watch all or most sessions live. As a result, HCPs overwhelmingly say that they attend virtual events for absorbing content rather than for making professional connections. Further, 68 percent feel that virtual attendees are considered less important by convention organizers than are in-person attendees, which drives HCPs’ narrowed expectations for the virtual experience.

For in-person conventions, however, cost has become a factor that is affecting attendance more strongly than before the pandemic. In a 2019 Ashfield survey of HCPs, 57 percent said that their attendance in person would decrease significantly if direct sponsorship from pharmaceutical companies was withdrawn. In the 2023 survey, 82 percent of respondents strongly agree that they would attend more medical congresses if they received sponsorship invitations from pharmaceutical companies.

As for the activities that HCPs find most valuable at in-person events, nearly two-thirds say scientific and educational are critically important to them—and that it does not matter if a session is sponsored by a pharmaceutical firm as long as the information is objective. Networking with professional colleagues is the next-most valuable activity, followed by keynote presentations and abstract sessions. At the bottom of the list: exhibit-booth interactions and industry-sponsored product-education sessions.

However, the things that HCPs say will draw them to exhibit booths or pharma-presented symposia are product information that’s relevant for an HCP’s practice and patients, along with trial data that is relevant to an HCP’s practice and patients. Further, symposia should not run more than 45 minutes, say 70 percent of HCPs.

To market to HCPs effectively ahead of a convention, both the organizers and exhibiting firms should communicate in detail with attendees at least five weeks ahead of the event. The proof:
• 29 percent of HCPs begin planning their convention schedules at least eight weeks out
• 23 percent start planning five to eight weeks out
• 24 percent start planning three to four weeks out
• 23 percent start planning within two weeks of an event.

And after a convention, organizers and exhibitors would be wise to evaluate how information gathered by HCPs at an event is used in their work. For instance, the Ashfield/IPCAA survey finds that 74 percent of respondents regularly discuss newly acquired information with a colleague, while 51 percent regularly discuss newly acquired information with patients.

“It’s so important to hear directly from healthcare professionals about what they really want from their medical congresses in the future—and to understand why some of the changes we had predicted [coming out of the Covid pandemic] have not been as permanent as we first thought,” said Nicky Simpson, co-president of IPCAA. One area she is referring to: The amount of money and effort devoted to virtual events—which broadened the reach of medical associations’ education to practitioners around the world—was reduced much more than expected once in-person gatherings returned, especially among smaller specialty societies.

Overall, she adds, “the way that congresses are delivered, and how pharma companies show up to them, must be built on these preferences” that HCPs communicated through the survey.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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