Monday, December 04, 2006

The Best Unheralded Medical Meeting

As I’ve said before, journalists are pack animals. A small group of medical meetings each attracts hundreds of reporters, because they’re reliable sources of news year after year.

But there’s one meeting I think is better than the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the American Heart Association (AHA), and the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) put together. For some reason, however, hardly any reporters attend.

It’s the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS), a conference jointly sponsored by the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

PAS is a big meeting, attracting thousands of researchers and clinicians. It even has a press room, of a sort, but only a handful of reporters register. Those reporters are both happy and busy; happy because there’s not much competition for terrific stories, and busy because there are so many worthwhile stories that it’s hard to choose.

It’s a four-day meeting, but the time I covered it I only attended three days’ worth. In that time I picked up no fewer than 40 solid news stories. If I had been three people, I could easily have picked up 120. This is no exaggeration.

It’s clearly the major pediatric research meeting of the year, but it’s my impression that more reporters attend the much less interesting annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics. When I covered the AAP meeting I learned, to my surprise, that it’s mostly a CME meeting, with a relatively small proportion of original research presentations.

The PAS meeting, in contrast, is all original research. Just about every talk, and just about every poster presents the results of a clinical trial, and is thus a potential news story.

So why doesn’t the PAS meeting get the respect and the attention from journalists that it deserves? In part, it’s the name, I think. The biggest offender is the word “academic.” If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the meeting involved mostly basic research, with little of interest to physicians or to the general public. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the talks have direct clinical relevance.

The word “pediatric” is the next offender. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the meeting was solely of interest to pediatricians. In fact, there are papers at this meeting of interest to virtually every medical specialty, from neonatal medicine, to neurology, to infectious diseases, to psychiatry, to child development, to name a few.

The third problem is with the word “societies.” Although I have little evidence to back this up, I’m guessing that the AAP, by far the biggest of the four sponsoring societies, invests more resources in promoting its own annual meeting to the press than the PAS meeting. The other three societies don't have the resources (or perhaps the knowhow) to promote the meeting on their own.

By the way, if you’re a medical journalist, please forget everything you’ve just read. You just keep running with the pack, and I’ll keep all those sweet PAS stories for myself.

The next PAS meeting will be held May 5-8, 2007 in Toronto.


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