Are Live Educational Meetings Dead?

In recent years, we have witnessed an evolution in how medical professionals receive their continuing education. In the past, large, centralized gatherings ruled. However, the rise of longer working hours, heavier patient loads, and tighter budgetary restrictions have limited the ability of many physicians to participate in such meetings. Indeed, in a 2016 survey of healthcare professionals, 61% indicated that it is difficult to find time to attend live meetings. Now, the widespread use of the internet has given rise to convenient, high-quality, online education. A busy physician, already tasked with carrying a heavier patient load than ever before, can now access the most up-to-date information and expert opinions, fulfilling their continuing education requirements in the process, from the comfort of their home or office. Given the availability of convenient, helpful, online education and the continued view of time as a precious resource, we may begin to wonder if live meetings are dead, or nearing the end of their life and utility.

The answer to the question is, very simply, no. Live meetings have not died, nor are they likely to die any time soon. While the internet has brought easy access to education at home and in the office, there are many benefits to live education that online offerings can never entirely duplicate or replace. Rather than dying, live meetings have evolved to suit a new audience, built upon a different structure that supports modern educational needs and constraints. Because of the difficulties in finding budget for travel and time to spend away from the clinic, the new live meeting is short, focused, and local. A single two-hour or three-hour meeting in the evening or on the weekend that takes place within a comfortable driving distance from home allows physicians the benefits of the live-meeting format without interrupting their already-busy lives.

Another major change in the modern live meeting is the switch from lecture to engagement. For years, educational experts have been calling for the death of the lecture. This form of education is considered outdated, ineffective, and, worst of all, boring. An audience that isn’t engaged in their education is an audience that isn’t learning. Many medical schools across the United States have eradicated or drastically reduced their reliance on lectures, and the same trend is being seen in modern live meetings. In the place of lectures, case-based and problem-based learning is paramount, with the group of participants working in tandem with the expert presenter to solve complex medical issues and evaluate how the most recent data in their field can be incorporated into clinical practice. This includes a heavy reliance on real-world examples that highlight true challenges faced in the clinic. This format allows for participants to not only receive updated information about their field, but also to develop complex problem-solving skills that can serve them in their day-to-day practice.

A final, key shift in the modern live meeting is the size of the audience. While historic live meetings may have commanded an audience of hundreds or thousands, this approach is not practical or even desirable in the format of modern live meetings. Modern live meetings limit attendance numbers to ensure active engagement from all participants. This allows for true team-based learning and gives the participants ample opportunity to interact with experts in their field. Direct interaction with experts and colleagues is one of the hallmarks of live education that can never be completely duplicated by other educational formats.

The importance of these newer live meeting formats is not a trend, and it is backed by data from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the body that governs continuing medical education in the United States. According to their most recent data report on the Growth and Evolution in Continuing Medical Education, courses and regularly scheduled meeting series account for approximately 40% of physician engagement. In a survey of oncologists and hematologists in the prIME Oncology physician network, 83% of respondents indicated that international congresses or meetings are one of the most useful ways they stay updated on the latest advances in clinical care.   Because live meetings offer an element of interaction and an escape from the typical office setting, they will continue to live on. However, in order to continue attracting the interest and participation of a physician audience, they have evolved, and must continue to do so.