COVID-19 medical meetings mayhem takes hold

4 minute read

As doctors prioritise for the next few months of the COVID-19 crisis, the medical conference and events industry is bracing for its worst few months in history

Last Thursday, the largest digital health meeting in the world, HIMSS, featuring up to 40,000 delegates and over 1100 exhibitors, was due to start with the first ever keynote from a sitting US president. By Monday this week, it was cancelled.

HIMSS quickly announced that it intended to hold the conference digitally, but given it had featured an exhibition of more than 1,100 vendors, and delegate revenues will be deferred until 2021, it is estimated losses for HIMSS prior to any insurance they might be carrying on such an eventuality, will likely run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Yesterday, one of Australia’s largest and most exciting new international medical meetings this year, CODA, due to be held in Melbourne starting September 27, was postponed until April 2021. Just prior to that, GPs Down Under’s second Australian conference, due to start late September as well, was also postponed until mid March next year.

CODA, which was being run in conjunction with the GPs Down Under event, put out a statement which summarised  the key issue facing organisers over the coming months, accompanied by a video from founders Dr Roger Harris and Dr Oli Flower.

“In recent months, as the global emergency posed by the COVID-19 has emerged, our preparation for the CODA event has accordingly changed, and today we announce that the COD event will be postponed until the 19-23 of April 2021, remaining in Melbourne,” the statement reads.

“As healthcare professionals, we are the frontline in the crisis and must stand steady, as we always do, to care for patients.”.

Another regional GP conference, the WONCA family medicine conference in New Zealand , due to be held April 19-23, has also been also postponed, the organisers also citing that doctors were going to be needed at the frontline.

The largest GP meeting for the year, the RACGP’s GP20 isn’t postponed yet, but it’s very likely on a wait-and-see basis now. It falls in late October, a date which most event organisers are suggesting might be far enough off for the medical community to have some more certainty around the breadth of the impending crisis. The RACGP has so far not got back to us with a comment on GP20, or its upcoming conference for practice owners and managers, in Brisbane from May 16-17.

Any meeting which is occurring between now and June, where doctors are among the major delegates, faces the twin issues of potentially reducing frontline capacity if the outbreak becomes worse, or the PR disaster of a medical conference potentially causing further spread of the outbreak.

At the same time, many major pharmaceutical companies have suspended doctor events or meetings as a means of supporting the system by keeping as many doctors on the frontline as feasible. It is not known if this has been extended to visits by sales representatives yet, but it seems likely to follow soon say some practice managers.

The Thoracic Society of Australia New Zealand (TSANZ) annual conference which is currently set to go ahead in  Melbourne from March 27 has issued a statement saying that currently there is no reason not to go ahead.

The TSANZ organisers are giving regular updates, but as late as last Thursday, their position was that it was still safe to proceed. They issued a statement as follows: “We have reviewed the current government advice and it remains unchanged at business as usual and no need to cancel major events. As such the ASM will proceed as planned from the 27-31st March in Melbourne.

“This is an evolving situation which we will continue to monitor daily. For delegates who feel that they are unable to attend the meeting, we are currently working on a digital solution that will enable participation in the entire ASM remotely (the current digital registration has limited access). We are finalising these arrangements and will provide further information as soon as possible.”

Other key upcoming conferences for GPs yet to issue advice of postponement which fall into the forecast danger period include:

  • The AMA annual conference, May 19-23
  • The RACGP Practice Owners and Managers Conference May 16-17
  • General Practice Conference and Exhibition in Melbourne, May 22-24

Some specialist conferences which are starting to look in trouble include:

  • The Australian Society for Infectious Diseases , Melbourne, June 3-5
  • The Royal College of Physicians annual congress in Melbourne, May 3-4

It is believed that the The Australian Rheumatology Association conference, to be held in Sydney on May 19, is close to announcing postponement or cancellation.

International specialist meetings are cancelling or postponing with even more frequency than localised events.

Note: The Medical Republic’s digital health summit, Wild Health, currently scheduled to be held in Melbourne on June 2 is being rescheduled currently to late October in the same venue.


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