The top ten recommendations for a medical tourism conference organiser

Autumn is conference season, and it seems that medical tourism is becoming the most talked about subject on the conference platform. Three years ago, there was little interest in this area, but in 2008 it seems that every events company and association has jumped on the conference bandwagon.

Autumn is conference season, and it seems that medical tourism is becoming the most talked about subject on the conference platform. Three years ago, there was little interest in this area, but in 2008 it seems that every events company and association has jumped on the conference bandwagon.

In recent weeks, I’ve attended the World Health Tourism Congress in San Francisco, the Health Tourism Development Conference in Vienna, the Health Tourism Show in London, the Global Healthcare Conference in Dubai and spoken on medical tourism to a meeting of UK NHS management, and to a Cerner Healthcare Convention in Kansas. My colleague, Philip Archbold has spoken at the Indian Medical Tourism Congress in Chennai. Coming up…I’m off to address the International Medical Travel Conference in Korea, and speak at a meeting of the Cyprus Health Promotion Board.
So, I’ve become a bit of a medical tourism conference “groupie….. But it prompts the question: Do we need all these events, and are they actually worthwhile?
In my previous company, one of the core activities was event planning and management; many of these events were within the healthcare sector. So, I do have some knowledge of what makes a good event and what can go wrong. Being an attendee/speaker/delegate at these medical tourism events has been an eye opener. Frankly, compared to other industries most of them aren’t delivering the goods.
Where’s it going wrong?
Here are my top ten recommendations for medical tourism event organisers:
1. Set some objectives….Most of the medical tourism events that I have attended seem to have some kind of vague objective of “let’s get a bunch of people together to “address some of the issues”, and facilitate some networking (and we’ll make a bunch of money while we do it…..).

2. ….and measure your success!
If you don’t have SMART objectives, you can’t measure your success. Sending out a post event “What did you think of the conference?” survey is the usual cop out in this respect..but what is it actually measuring? Most medical tourism conferences don’t even bother with this most basic of measurement tools.

3. Plan the agenda
The current approach appears to be mainly along the lines of “who can we get to speak”. Why not plan an agenda, and then identify those people who would be best to cover specific topics? Let’s have some speakers from outside of the medical tourism fraternity who can give a different perspective!

4. Buy professional expertise
If events aren’t your core expertise, buy some expert help. Get a professional event organiser in to plan, market and run the conference, The Medical Tourism Association did a great job of getting numbers to the San Francisco Congress, but in terms of structure, content and organisation …….

5. Abolish the all day plenary sessionDifferent people have different information needs. The medical tourism industry is a melting pot of providers, purchasers, facilitators, insurers, etc etc. Run specific, smaller workshops or sessions that cover key issues for targeted groups of delegates. Start the day with a lively, thought provoking keynote presentation then break the audience into smaller sessions. The Cerner Healthcare Convention has cracked this one. A stimulating keynote address each day followed by 300 plus targeted workshops for the 5,000 plus attendees.

6. Fire some of the speakers I’ve seen good, bad and just plain awful this year. My greatest gripe? Speakers who have been given a clear and very specific brief…and then ignore it completely, often making a “This is what we do in XXXX, aren’t we wonderful” presentation. All speakers are guilty of promoting their own interest/business. That’s part of why they are there, and it’s to be expected. But, it shouldn’t make up 100% of their presentation. If you want me to name names, I’ll email
them to you….

7. Ban the “destination presentation”
The conference platform is not the place to run a 30 minute “advertisement” ….. “my country/destination/hospital/company has the “highest quality healthcare”, “state of the art technology” etc etc

8. Organise If you’re going to attempt to run some structured networking or “buyer meets seller” sessions, plan it properly, match up the right people and run it like clockwork. Take a look at other industries and see how well they do this.

9. Keep to time If there’s one thing a conference must do, especially when it’s based on parallel sessions is run to time. If speakers over run, turn off the mike. Dubai could learn a thing or two here.

10. Make it fun! Liven it up! We’re human beings. We’re out of our regular job for a few days. We want to enjoy ourselves. Will someone please do something different…..!
Finally, one medical tourism conference not to miss in 2009; the 2nd European Congress on Health Tourism in Budapest. Why? Under the guidance of a medical tourism expert, Dr Uwe Klein, perhaps this one will hit the mark?

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Keith Pollard
As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.