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Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford? Yes

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a358 (Published 26 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1466

Reduced patient access to specialist care may be associated with attendance at medical conferences

The lively debate brought about by two published contrary positions 1, 2 on the merit and drawbacks of attendance at international medical conferences largely focused on their environmental cost on the one hand1 and educational benefits on the other. 2

Even domestic conferences in Australia require some form of medium haul flying, and that is even before considering long haul flights to European and North American destinations where the bulk of international medical conferences are held. As such, the debate is more relevant to internationally isolated Australia and could be extended to domestic conferences in countries which are continental in expanse.

The debate has yet to allude to difficulties with referral of patients for specialist care encountered during major conferences, when a large number of that craft group become unavailable for the duration or greater of the conference. This transient shortage of local specialist cover may be critical in resource poor countries.

Video and internet-mediated conferencing allow clinicians access to cached presentations in their own (convenient) time, stay within their local practice area and offer a level of health delivery at least better than being in absentia.

Some travel with adventures rather than new knowledge acquisition as a priority. Educational benefits, as espoused by Drife, 2 are only possible if the conference registrant attends an “acceptable” number or type of conference sessions. This requires self-discipline and a personal ethic to fulfill.

Allow me to extend the “flying doctors” analogy to flightless mechanically powered migratory birds flocking to distant feeding grounds to sate a hunger and thirst for knowledge. Like that other great flightless bird of yesteryear, the dodo, will international conferencing be rendered extinct by powerful information technology resources that yield the same educational benefits, but with our feet firmly planted on terra firma?

References:

1. Green M. Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford? Yes BMJ 2008; 336: 1466.

2. Drife JO. Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford? No BMJ 2008; 336: 1467.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

18 July 2008
Joseph Ting
Staff Specialist
Department of Emergency Medicine, Mater Public Hospitals, South Brisbane 4101 Australia