Shattering the Mold: It’s Time for Reality Conferences

Are conferences too wrapped up in all that is shiny? Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash

Thematically and structurally, the majority of healthcare conferences are all predominantly (sadly) the same. A celebration of successes, achievements, and pats-on-the-back. Shows of sheer brilliance. Accomplishments beyond the average person’s wildest dreams. Demonstrations and exhibits that are mesmerizing to the beholders’ eyes. Thought leaders in sharp suits with pocket squares or classic pumps are illuminated in spotlights, while the audience sits in silence with their eyes fixated on the stage. Reporters are scattered throughout the room, furiously taking down words of triumph for their next breaking press release.

Healthcare conferences are addicted to demonstrations of achievement and, in ways, rightfully so. Healthcare and medicine are not for the faint of heart. Grit, resilience, foresight, dedication, blood, sweat, and extreme sacrifice pave the way to success. But why do we continue to omit shortcomings, barriers, failures, and the herds of pink elephants that stand among us? Why do we continue to solely feed attendees with promises of potential, displays of futurism, and innovations that push the boundaries of tangibility, while avoiding discussions of real-time, foundational problems that need attention NOW? Poverty, mental health, addiction, substance abuse, drug prices, healthcare costs,barriers to access, fax machines, poor coordination of care, lack of universal access to information, food deserts, impact of tobacco and alcohol, and social isolation only scratch the surface of the daily realities of those struggling to achieve true wellness. Bionic contact lenses and sending a Tesla to Mars aren’t going to help any patient today or tomorrow.

Highly respected conferences have some of the most admirable, powerful, and influential people in attendance as well as gracing their microphones. How ironic is it to have the likes of these people spending the majority of their time at a conference sitting in silence, focused on listening to unidirectional informational flow? Phones are encouraged to be silenced. Live tweeting and sharing of information from presentations is some cases still considered controversial. Limited networking breaks offer small talk over wellness beverages or individually brewed espressos topped with the endless search for a free outlet to charge whatever electronic device is on the brink of dying. This is not innovation. This is not disruption. The is not advancing anything besides perhaps personal agendas.

What should the purpose of conferences be? Is there anything more valuable than making connections, bridging silos, and collaborating to dismantle barriers in real-time?

Conferences must become a place to DO something great. Photo credit: Clark Tibbs via Unsplash

Have you ever attended a conference and witnessed something actionable happen on stage? What if participating speakers were encouraged to address pressing problems as part of their speaking commitment? Taking a play from the show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, what if speakers were offered lifelines, such as phone-a-friend, to begin connecting the right people and influencers to address major problems patients are struggling with right now? I guarantee the majority of invited keynoters have the necessary connections within the confines of their contacts to truly move the needle. What if leaders with solutions could dial in virtually and be given the opportunity to join problem solving sessions? Imagine if phones at conferences were ringing off the hook like on a Wall Street trading floor, with solutions and ideas pouring in, truly connecting the dots. What if the criteria for giving a keynote address was driven by which attendee connected the most dots in real-time by deadlines set throughout the duration of a conference? Talk about flipping the script! Keynote speeches would then become real-time draft plans as to how a problem affecting patients was going to begin to be solved. Uncharted and rough dirty? Yes, but all of the world’s most brilliant diamonds start that way.

Are reality conferences a diamond in the rough? Photo credit: Hao Zhang via Unsplash

Is this going to be well scripted and seamless? Far from it. Could this get messy? Absolutely! Are there going to be disagreements and heated debates?I hope so. Tough times call for tough discussions. Reality TV has produced some of the most memorable and highly acclaimed TV shows. Is it time to consider reality conferences in healthcare?

There are only 2 camps of people in healthcare: those who want to transform it and those who just want to talk about transformation. How can we create and execute a never-been-seen-before conference that gives those that really want to roll up their sleeves, connect the dots, and truly get stuff done an opportunity to showcase what they are made of and capable of doing?

Grace Cordovano, PhD is a professional oncology patient advocate, patient experience enhancer, and Citizen Health 2018 Ambassador.

Follow her on Twitter: @GraceCordovano


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