From the Chair: the Vital Role of the Annual Meeting
Bradley J. Erickson, MD, PhD, FSIIM
As we approach closer to June and the 2010 SIIM Annual Meeting, I think it is important to discuss why we have annual meetings. Despite the wonderful interactions that can occur via the web, I believe that there is still an important role for annual meetings. I want to discuss the rationale for the annual meeting, and its relationship to other SIIM activities, to help understand how we have re-shaped the meeting to adjust to the changing environment. Let me start by saying that while the economy is a challenge, we should not let temporary issues cloud the long term. It is important that we have an unclouded vision of the role of the annual meeting so that it is re-shaped to address our members’ needs. It is equally important to recognize that many functions that were met by meetings in the past can now be much more effectively delivered using alternative media. Getting that balance correct is critical to the success of the society and its members. It is also important to recognize that the right formula for SIIM is not necessarily the right formula for other societies, and vice versa. Therefore, we will not be successful trying to copy or outdo other societies—we must instead focus inward on what SIIM does best.
With that in mind, let me discuss what I think are important functions for the meeting, with the intent of generating a discussion that will lead to a productive direction for the meeting and other SIIM activities. I think that perhaps the most important function of the annual meeting is to establish and refresh personal relationships with people who deal with similar issues. SIIM is unique among most societies in that members include not just MDs, but also PhDs, IT professionals, RTs, business managers, all of whom may work for academic institutions, private practices, vendors, or ‘other’ (the variety is astounding!). I do not know of a medical imaging society that has this mix, and that is structured to promote this interaction. Too frequently, vendor-customer interactions are confined to the “show floor;” at SIIM, these occur in the lecture hall, continue into the hallways, and perhaps from there to the show floor, or maybe the pub across the street. I should note here that while virtual beer is ‘less filling’ I have not found someone that claims it ‘tastes great.’
Clearly there are many new social media that have developed in the past few years. However, it is clear that those media generally do not result in strong and durable relationships between people. Rather, the most successful users are those that use the tools for continuing an existing relationship. The media allow you to share bits and pieces of what is happening to you with others, but there are few examples of people developing and maintaining a relationship just on the web.
Connecting Users of the Same Applications
Because of the importance of developing these connections, you will see SIIM working to making that even easier. It is straightforward to create profiles of people. It might happen by noticing who is attending a session focused on problems that you have. But we also know that the brands of the systems you use are a critical component of having a productive discussion. At this meeting, we will make it much easier to see who has systems similar to yours, to aid in quickly sifting through the crowds to find those few who ‘look’ much like you, OR, have a profile that you think would seem to work well (wouldn’t it be good to talk to someone and find out if it is really the panacea it seems to be?). Certainly, web media can sustain such a relationship and can serve to keep the interactions going between meetings, but establishing credibility and connections is much more efficiently and effectively done in person.
Another important role of the annual meeting is for customers to interact with vendors. Too often, this is reduced to “meetings of decision makers” and “closing the deal.” While that can occur at meetings, increasingly decisions are made by groups of individuals including physicians, IT professionals, and business managers. The decision process is also much more complex today, because of the more complex interactions of the system being considered. Very few people who actually ‘sign the checks’ attend any open society meeting. I would argue that ‘decision drivers’—those who strongly influence decisions or hold veto power—do attend SIIM.
Forum for Consensus
Society meetings also provide a valuable forum for a field to develop consensus on important problems. Too frequently, customers and vendors alike jump to conclusions about the correct solution without a proper vetting of the entire problem. The SIIM meeting provides a venue for users to explore with vendors the entire problem and solution space, which can allow the most effective solutions to be developed. Over the past few years, and certainly even more so this year with new integrated learning activities, SIIM has developed sessions and other forms of interaction that help both parties to explore important problems and potential solutions. We think this is valuable to customers and vendors alike. The complaint is too frequently made that vendors aren’t delivering what customers want, and that customers don’t clearly explain what they are asking for, and indeed are getting what they ask for. This is clearly a communications issue and one that a society like SIIM can and has addressed. An open forum where a large number of customers can discuss their concerns and challenges can be an extremely beneficial and efficient way for marketing groups to help gather requirements. I am not saying this will address all the issues and that vendors don’t need to talk to individuals, but this is an important venue that a meeting like SIIM can uniquely deliver.
Dissemination of Tools
Another important activity is dissemination of tools and techniques that healthcare personnel can use. Open source software is the best example of this, and is another important activity at the annual meeting. There are many wonderful tools that are very useful in medical practice. The “plug fest” format is a way that attendees can quickly see various pieces of software and how problems are being solved using these tools. People are present who can then answer questions about how to implement the software, challenges in using the software, and strategies for dealing with those challenges, and for those with the right skills, consider developing new features or completely new tools.
Getting “Up Close” with Products
There is also value in seeing products. In the past, this was perceived as a chance to see the product operate just as if in practice. Sometimes this drove vendors to create huge displays to simulate imaging departments. This may still have value, but in the world of increasingly integrated IT systems, the value is less. But there is still tremendous value in talking with a team from a vendor to understand how systems can and should interact, as well as to try to understand when they don’t. While the user interface is important to practicing physicians, that is becoming less of a differentiating feature. Rather, the implementation of particular standards and interfaces that allow substantial efficiencies to be gained are now becoming more important. These technical aspects are the reasons that “decision makers” listen to “decision drivers,” and “decision drivers” need substantial interactions at meetings like SIIM.
The world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. SIIM is a vibrant society that has changed, is changing, and will continue to change, and I am excited about the good things SIIM will do for its members.
Dr. Erickson is a Professor in the Department of Radiology at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester.