This for us medical men and women means meeting periodically to learn, update and exchange ideas. In short, it means learning so as to ultimately benefit our patients.
To conduct a conference we need several requirements. These are: a suitable place, an organization to oversee the conduct, participants, delegates and speakers. One needs money to take care of the hunger and thirst of the speakers and delegates for the period of time these worthies hang around in the memorable cause of learning.
Over the years it has become a custom to hold these conferences in hotels. Depending on the reputation of the organizers the hotels are selected. If it is lowly paced general physicians it may be in three star hotels and if it is a super specialty conference it may be in a seven star location.
The concerned body of doctors will start working months in advance advertising in the specialist media as to this meeting and we begin getting mails giving the details of the topic and the registration charges. The higher the hierarchy the higher is the registration fee.
Now it will be interesting to know who will be the delegates [listeners] and who the speakers? Delegates are supposed to pay the entry fee which will cover their lunches and dinners and other expenditures incurred by the organizers in hosting this conference. The speakers are specialists in their fields who will have either paid for their coming or they will have been sponsored by the research grants to present their views. In reality none of this is true. The delegates are there because someone would have picked their bill of travel and stay. And speakers would have been taken care of by the companies or firms interested in high lighting their research to boost their sales of a particular product or devise.
In a major conference which drew 1500 delegates on the subject of advances in diabetes there was no registration counter! This means there were none who paid and came as delegates! Diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease afflict the rich more than the poor. Drug companies are interested in selling their products related to treatment of these diseases. They know that here is a huge market for drugs used in the treatment of diabetes and India is emerging as the diabetic capital of the world and here lies the truth of this mega conference where in an estimated 2 crores of rupees were spent. How appropriate it would have been had this money been spent on funding research on a vaccine to cure malaria [essentially a poor man’s illness]
Let us assume there are still doctors who don’t want to be sponsored and would like to pay and attend and learn. This foolish class is rapidly dwindling and if things are going as they are they may soon disappear! These doctors are generally honest professionals and therefore unlikely to be rich and cannot afford the travel and stay expenses of going to another city or country and therefore are forced to stay back. What about their learning? I asked a friend of mine who attended this hyped up sponsored conference on diabetes as to what he learnt new? He said,’ very little of practical importance.’
There is still hope for this class of doctors. Internet has come to their rescue. Most advanced research of practical importance gets published in journals and subscription costs of one or two standard journals is sufficient to keep one updated. These journals have very interesting and novel teaching methods which I find far superior to the didactic delegate’ speaker method of learning/unlearning.
What is the future of these conferences? As I see they continue to thrive but the quality is likely to come down. There is going to be major changes in learning methods and these will be more and more web based and my worry is that here too drug companies will play a role [as they will have to spend less!] and this will leave a set of unhappy doctors who are denied of their free travel , food and drink!