DMOs Give Medical Meeting Planners an Inside Edge

How these organizations can help medical meeting planners tap into local resources.

Phoenix Biomedical Campus Arizona
The sprawling Phoenix Biomedical Campus in Arizona.

Pity the planner with a specialty in med/pharma. Never an easy job, the task became even more complicated half a dozen years ago, when the reporting provisions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect. "Basically, somebody said, 'No more fun for doctors!'" quips medical-meetings compliance expert Pat Schau­mann, CMP, HMCC, a strategic consultant with Maritz Global Events

pat schaumann
Pat Schaumann

With more stringent rules in place, no longer could the promise of luxury resorts and outlandish meetings destinations be counted on to woo health-care practitioners (aka HCPs) away from their practices. The upshot: Planners have had to obsess over countless new compliance requirements, and delivering memorable meetings experiences to doctors has become a much greater challenge.

Destination officials have become an increasingly key part of the equation, however, helping to connect these specialty planners with local medical expertise and cutting-edge facilities to ease the process and keep medical professionals engaged and learning. Following are some tips for capitalizing on this evolving partnership.

Tap Local Experts

More than three-quarters of physicians say they attend meetings so they can interact with global or local experts, according to The Science of Healthcare Professional Meetings Guidebook from Ashfield Meetings & Events. For those planners considering relatively unfamiliar locations, many convention and visitor bureaus will be happy to put them in touch with local experts in medical fields.

Becca Bides
Becca Bides

"Our goal is to always provide planners with the best resources and strongest content to support the destination presence in their overall marketing plan," notes Becca Bides, vice president of communications for Visit Orlando. That includes facilitating unique off-site activities and securing local speakers. 

Like a number of destinations, Orlando is parlaying local academic expertise into cutting-edge research and innovation centers that attract new startups — and provide meeting and training facilities, to boot. For example, the city's mammoth Lake Nona Medical City is a rapidly expanding hub of medical knowledge. The 650-acre complex is served by the University of Central Florida Health Sciences Campus, two hospitals, a National Institutes of Health research facility and biomedical research companies. "It really provides medical groups a robust and centralized setting for activities like educational sessions and tours," says Bides.

The right destination contacts can be essential, particularly in locations that might not be so well-known for their health-care specialty expertise. Take Las Vegas, for example, where the convention, hospitality and entertainment facilities tend to get most of the spotlight. 

"We have some areas of medicine in which we have some of the world's most renowned experts, and nobody knows they're here," notes Cheryl Smith, CMP, HMCC, director of specialty market sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Smith, who worked for 20 years in the health-care industry before joining the LVCVA, cites the Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, located in Las Vegas alongside the Frank Gehry-designed Keep Memory Alive Event Center. "The world's foremost Alzheimer's research is happening right here in Las Vegas at that facility," she says. "Some of those doctors are among the world's leading researchers in movement disorders and Parkinson's disease, as well."

Back east, the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau created a division specifically to spread word of local medical expertise and facilitate those connections for planners. PHL Life Sciences brings together leaders from the medical, pharmaceutical, biotech, health-care, higher-education, research and venture-capital industries from Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as Delaware and New Jersey. For a region rich with resources — including seven medical schools and nearly 100 hospitals — a liaison within the destination marketing organization can really help planners navigate the territory.

Depending on the meeting's objectives, a CVB's connections might also be a valuable tool to boost awareness and attendance from the local medical community. "Our local doctors love to take advantage of the continuing-education opportunities that are passing through the city," says the LVCVA's Smith. "For the planner, having access to those community resources in health care is really helpful, to boost attendance or increase foot traffic through a trade show or some sort of sponsored part of the meeting. And Las Vegas isn't very spread out," she adds. "Physicians can attend events or talks and get immediately back to their practices."

Take Advantage of Unique Venues

Scattered throughout the country (and beyond) are one-of-a-kind interactive training facilities with cutting-edge technology for medical education. "These offer a reason for doctors to come to a meeting," says Schaumann of Maritz. "They want to experience these facilities." Schaumann, a seasoned medical-meeting planner herself who teaches the Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate course, has found that all too often these venues just aren't on the radar of a lot of medical-meeting professionals.

oquendo center
Las Vegas' Oquendo Center offers nearly 70,000 square feet of meeting space.

Nevertheless, the need for the facilities is strong. For example, the Oquendo Center in Las Vegas provides nearly 70,000 square feet of meeting space and is in the midst of an expansion project to meet demand. The place is loaded with hands-on training labs for continuing education and research, including a 12-station surgery operating room, a fully equipped surgery prep room, a radiology suite, a 190-seat auditorium and a variety of multipurpose rooms. The cutting-edge audiovisual infrastructure is included in the rental price, and the center is outfitted with connectivity and broadcast capabilities that are especially well-suited for sharing research or techniques with attendees of a large conference. "You could simultaneously broadcast to thousands gathered in a nearby hotel ballroom on the Strip," suggests the LVCVA's Cheryl Smith.

Venues like the Oquendo Center that can provide a wow factor for physicians but still meet compliance requirements are a huge benefit to planners, Schaumann says. These purpose-built facilities are compliance-savvy, offering on-site F&B with no minimums and a variety of menus that can be adjusted easily to meet spending caps.

"I just had the opportunity to speak at the AdventHealth Nicholson Center in Celebration [Fla.]," notes Schaumann. "It's an incredible virtual learning center." During the break for a recent HMCC class she was teaching, the venue invited her students to come to the learning lab and perform virtual surgery. "We put our hands in the gloves and participated in a virtual-reality guided procedure," she says. "It was a great experience for everyone." 

The 54,000-square-foot Nicholson Center is only about 25 minutes south of Orlando. Other health-care innovation facilities include the 90,000-square-foot CAMLS, the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa, Fla.; Cleveland's Global Center for Health Innovation at the Huntington Convention Center, which offers hands-on technology and medical-equipment showcases alongside extensive meeting space; and the 33,000-square-foot Center for Simulation and Innovation at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus.

To take advantage of such facilities, adds Schaumann, it really comes down to planners educating themselves about their meeting destination and knowing what to ask for. "How do you find out if a location has one of these incredible virtual centers or training hubs?" she asks. "I always advise planners to start with the CVB."

Make It Convenient

Above nearly all else, HCPs require that medical gatherings be efficient: They have little time to spare for getting away from their hospitals and practices and, according to Ashfield's Meetings Guidebook, the meetings continue to get shorter. In fact, most HCPs' ideal length is just 2.7 days, says the guidebook, with one day of travel included.

Convenience is a huge factor driving the popularity of medical-innovation campuses — having access to experts, cutting-edge facilities and meeting space in one location is ideal. "Doctors love convenience," Schaumann says. "They want to be able to get in and get out quickly, and then get back to their patients."