The 2014 RSNA 100th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting drew 56,030 attendees from more than 110 countries. As a medical student, it was quite an overwhelming experience. The sheer number of attendees made crowd navigation an exhausting task of avoiding limbs and ignoring stares. And if you happened to survive traversing from the ground floor to the main concourse and through the bilateral labyrinth of exhibitors in Hall A and Hall B, the enormous choice of lectures and events would undoubtedly crush you. I was hopelessly lost, and at a loss. But wait! Wasn’t there the RSNA app that I had just downloaded on my phone? The app listed all the events, along with an interactive map of their location, and a list of searchable presenters and exhibitors. It could also be tailored to the user, and list only events that I had signed up for. I was saved.
We are at the cusp of a change in how we communicate and network professionally. Traditional face-to-face meetings work well for smaller groups with focused goals, but new challenges arise when a meeting expands to more attendees than can fit in a single room. Attendees have various networking goals, interests, and schedules. As we expand radiological outreach and education, demand for networking and continuing education will only increase. Instead of a traditional single-track design of a smaller meeting, RSNA offers goods and opportunities in what I call the “buffet-model,” where attendees can come and go as they wish and set their own schedule.
Attending a meeting in person is no small feat and costs attendees not only transportation and lodging expenses, but also lost clinical time. To reach those who cannot attend in person, RSNA launched the Virtual Meeting in 2011 and has seen rising success with its use. Access is simple, visitors can go to RSNA.org/virtual and watch 60 live streaming courses, submit diagnoses for Cases of the Day, and earn Continuing Medical Education credit. The 2014 virtual meeting offered 50% more content than the previous year. The virtual meeting still has a ways to go before capturing the 1,754 scientific presentations, 225 refresher courses, 81 multisession courses, 37 series courses, 61 informatics courses, and 39 special sessions that occur at the real meeting. In addition, it is only available until Dec 19th, which provides access for only three weeks. Virtual meetings are a positive adjunct to the main conference in that they expand access to professionals as well as create a platform for more technological growth. Attendance for the virtual meeting this year grew from 5,700 to 6,076. I would not be surprised to see future RSNA meetings host a larger virtual audience than a real audience. Furthermore, software additions can be made to facilitate networking, such as integrating webcam communications amongst virtual attendees and also between virtual and in-person attendees. Teleconferencing is now a fast growing industry, with sales doubling to more than $1.6 billion in the last decade. However, as Susan Adams discussed in her Forbes article “Why We Need to Meet in Person,” there is no replacing the value of face-to-face meetings.
While in Chicago, in-person attendees have their own networking challenges. Dr. Achala Vagal, my neuroradiology mentor at the University of Cincinnati, mentioned that she begins her effort weeks ahead of the conference to set up face-to-face meetings. However, this may be vulnerable to changes in individual schedules or unforeseen circumstances during the meeting, hence it may be useful to have an additional feature in the mobile app that integrates personalized calendars with the individualized RSNA schedule, including an option for alarm notifications.
The Siemens-sponsored RSNA mobile app, similar to dozens of others in the mobile event app market, is currently focused on providing value for the event organizer by mobilizing and improving access to events. Current market prices suggest that this functionality costs $5000-$40,000 per app per event, and likely more for such a large event such as RSNA. On the other hand, there are a number of “social discovery” apps that focus on the attendees, using their existing social networks to find potential connections to others around them; however, these apps are completely disconnected from the organizer and the event content. The ideal mobile app would be one that brings together attendees and organizers; both sides would benefit from a free app that not only provides mobilizing event information (agenda, speakers, sponsors), but also promotes the event through social networks. Furthermore, “event discovery” features could allow attendees to find relevant events and get personalized suggestions based on specialty interests and past events.
Networking at such a large meeting is no small feat and may be daunting with the sheer number of colleagues and exhibitors whom one comes into contact with. To address the issue of follow-up, one solution may be the following: current functionality lets exhibitors scan the QR code (Quick Response code that appears as a square icon) on attendee badges in order to send emails after the meeting, so why not attendees do the same? Indeed, the RSNA mobile app could integrate a feature for attendees to scan other attendees’ or exhibitors’ QR codes as an “electronic business card” attached with key information about the person or vendor that can be easily organized within their mobile device for future communication; this is technology that already exists.
RSNA 2014 boasted 28,807 professional attendees, which is the highest professional attendance figure in the meeting’s history. This is even larger than the 2007 RSNA meeting with 27,846 professionals and 62,251 total attendees, the largest meeting in RSNA history (see graph). In the President’s Address on Sunday, Dr. N. Reed Dunnick said, "From the very beginning, the histories of the RSNA and radiology have been intertwined.” RSNA attendance has displayed somewhat of a cyclical pattern since 1996; however, increased professional attendance in 2014 indicates that RSNA, and radiology, is on the upswing.
It is my hope that the number of trainees and medical students will also increase; it was certainly a one-of-a-kind experience. The conference was inspirational; it opened my eyes to the highest achievements in the field and introduced me to new role models who I will look up to as I continue my professional development. I believe attending conferences should go far beyond just an educational agenda. A study from University of California, Irvine showed that meeting face-to-face is the most efficient and accurate way to establish trust; moreover, it inspires positive emotions, and it builds relationships. RSNA is a platform for growth, both in the personal realm as well as technological progress. Further advances with the virtual meeting and mobile app will help to improve attendee engagement, accommodate networking goals, and increase attendance to the world’s premier radiological meeting.