Organizers for this year's congress have worked to increase audience and speaker interaction and discussion.
Under the circumstances, perhaps it would be simplest to stop holding congresses. It's a growing challenge to attract sponsors, so "it's clear we have to forget the idea of going to a nice paradise island for meetings," admitted Yves Menu, president of the 2011 European Congress of Radiology. After all, travel contributes to pollution. And a meeting costs everyone time and energy (not to mention money).
"Maybe we should just cancel the meeting," he said, "say we're going to develop electronic tools, and not meet anywhere."
Yet there Menu was, addressing the opening press conference at ECR 2011 (after holding a session at a virtual congress earlier this week). Although he and his colleagues now spend perhaps half or a third of the time they travel in business and administrative meetings, Menu believes that in-person meetings do have a vital purpose. But you can't go on as if electronics don't exist, he said. You have to adapt.
At ECR 2011, this has led to a clear shift in the role of the session moderator. Five years ago, Menu began collecting evaluations of moderators at prior congresses. Only now does he know why: The responses have helped to identify moderators best able to facilitate interaction - not just between the speakers and the audience, but within the audience.
In most congresses, Menu said, the moderator for a session is chosen after the speakers have been selected. But here, the moderators have been chosen carefully, have defined the sessions, and then have helped to choose the speakers. All in the name of increased interaction.
The criteria for choosing speakers are also different. "You want them not only as experts, but as people who are flexible," he said, "who are willing to give shorter presentations and be able to answer questions that are more specific."
Sessions have been redesigned with more time for discussion, and in many cases the discussion topics have been pre-defined and published in the program. A session on imaging in trauma, for instance, ends with a set of assignments for the panel: "Does it make sense to have a level one trauma centre without IR on call day and night and an interventional angio suite in close relation to the emergency rooms? What is the optimal size of population as basis for a trauma centre? When is IR the first choice in the trauma patient and what are the most important limitations of emergency IR in the trauma patient?"
Virtual meetings are perfect for some purposes such as learning and organization, Menu observed. "But when you need to take a difficult decision, you need to do it in person. You need to see faces; you need people in front of you. I think we should shrink the real meetings to what is absolutely necessary."
Other speakers at the press conference alluded to some of the difficult decisions facing radiologists that will arise at the meeting. European Society of Radiology President Maximilian Reiser observed that the number of CTs at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich (where he is dean of the medical faculty) has increased five-fold since the year 2000. Healthcare costs are projected to consume fully one-fourth of the gross domestic product in the US by 2025. In this climate, how can radiologists best define the need for expensive tests? The slope of expenditure has increased so much worldwide, Menu said, that "we are approaching, if not already in a position to make, some very difficult decisions. We must involve everybody." Not just the "experts," he continued, and not just the radiologists from the richest nations.
The innovations and changes in ECR will be a surprise, Menu predicted. "I hope to see it copied in many other meetings."