Disruptive change brings opportunity for the prepared. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated trends that were already emerging and will certainly have long-lasting impact on the ways we do so many things as a society. —James C. Denneny III, MD
Explore This IssueSeptember 2020
Another effect of in-person meeting cancellations is that medical students and residents will miss out on interacting with seasoned otolaryngologists from across the U.S. “For many residents, our meetings are the first time they present to a clinical professional society,” said Triological Society Executive Vice President Myles L. Pensak, MD, chair of otolaryngology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio.
Disseminating information. Information sharing is always a big part of meetings, but otolaryngologists still communicate via email, text, and virtual get-togethers, as well as streaming educational opportunities. “I think there’s definitely some good that has come out of this as far as how we disseminate information,” said Dr. Garrett. “And I think ultimately, when we do get back to in-person meetings, virtual communication is just going to be an expanded way of discussing things.
The AAO-HNS has found many avenues to disseminate information throughout the specialty and healthcare community at large during the pandemic. These have included new position statements focusing on tracheotomy, elective surgery, and urgent and nonurgent patient care; reporting tools and research on anosmia; the COVID-19 podcast series; publication of COVID-19-related papers in Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery; and resources like the Guidance for Return to Practice in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Likewise, the Triological Society’s journals, The Laryngoscope and Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, continue to publish COVID-19-related papers.
In terms of scholarship, Dr. Pensak said submissions to the Triological Society’s journals, The Laryngoscope and Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, are up between 25% to 30%. “When elective surgery and nonurgent and nonemergent office visits were cancelled, physicians had more time on their hands,” he explained. “It seems, without the usual time constraints, a number of folks have been able to focus attention on projects that needed to be brought to fruition.”
Additionally, big meetings provide opportunities for networking in a broader way. Bumping into someone in the hall has resulted in Dr. Stewart being invited to participate in projects that have gone on to be published or developed into courses. And Dr. Pensak has met some of his most important mentors, who live thousands of miles from him, at meetings.
Potential Fallout for Societies
Many may not realize that societies’ large in-person meetings often provide much of their operating revenue. Not holding them can be a big drain on a society’s finances. Dr. Stewart said that without meetings, some small subspecialty societies may suffer a death blow, though he suspects most will make it. “The Rhinologic Society will face a revenue shortfall this year that will hurt us,” he said, “but we do have reserves, so we’ll survive.”
One silver lining, however, is the savings realized from not actually hosting a meeting, including food and beverage expenses—a gallon of coffee from a convention center can average between $100 to $200. “If you look at your balance sheet, a lot of the cost to a society is actually running a meeting,” said Dr. Garrett.
Societies will also lose conference registration fees and the support that comes with industry partners paying to physically exhibit the latest technology. With virtual meetings, some are concerned they may not see the same return on investment.
Additionally, pharmaceutical regulations and internal corporate policies may make it difficult for industry partners to switch to new operational protocols, according to Jami Lucas, executive director and CEO of the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy and its foundation. “That doesn’t mean we give up, though,” Lucas said. “Corporate partners are our partners for a reason. We represent a segment important to their industry. We just need to work together to find new ways to ensure that the access and bi-directional communication continues.”
Having a strategic plan in place has helped the AAO-HNS absorb the impact of the pandemic so that it won’t create a financial burden for its members, said James C. Denneny III, MD, AAO-HNS executive vice president and CEO. Dr. Denneny explained that the AAO-HNS follows best fiscal practices under the guidance of the AAO-HNS executive committee, secretary-treasurer, and finance and investment subcommittee. These practices guided the decision to transition the AAO-HNS 2020 Annual Meeting & OTO Experience—a reliable revenue source—to a virtual version this September (see sidebar).
“We’ve been able to build our financial reserves through operational savings over the last several years, and that’s allowed us to maintain the current level of services that members expect, as well as to offer $100 vouchers that practitioners can use to offset dues or educational offerings,” Dr. Denneny said. “As we address the ongoing challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents us as a medical society serving members who are on the front lines of this public health crisis, we aim to overcome these obstacles through new initiatives already underway and innovation, rather than seeking to add to the financial burden our members are already experiencing.”