Sunday, January 21, 2007

How to Find Medical Conferences

It would be nice if there were a comprehensive database of all upcoming medical conferences. An ideal medical-conference database would be easily searchable by date, by location, by specialty, and by keyword. It would present basic information about the conference including contact information and a link to the conference's web page. And it would also be nice if it had travel information, including lists of local restaurants and attractions.

Below you'll find an alphabetized list of 16 19 medical-conference finders, along with my highly subjective evaluations. I've assigned each site a "Roueche Score," based on its usefulness. If I've missed any sites, or if you disagree with any of my evaluations, I encourage you to let me know in the comments or by emailing medmeeting (at) gmail (dot) com.

I tested each site by searching for all meetings in the 2007 calendar year, by using a few keywords to search for certain obscure meetings including several on my list of Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences, and by searching with a few city names.

I updated this page on October 30, 2010 in preparation for my session on How to Cover a Medical Conference at ScienceWriters 2010. logo In keeping with its name, lists meetings in all areas including such topics as arts, humanities, business, and recreation in addition to medicine. Unfortunately its listings in medicine (and in a few other areas I checked) are highly incomplete. It has fairly detailed information on the meetings it does list, however. Roueche Score: 2 out of 10 logo Like, covers a wide range of academic meetings, not just medicine. Its listings in medicine are very weak, missing many important meetings and just about everything on my list of Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences. It provides only limited information on the meetings that are listed, typically just the dates, the location, and the meeting's URL. Roueche Score 2 out of 10

Doctor's Guide logo Doctor's Guide is very promising, with an intuitive interface and unusually extensive listings for meetings in the U.S. and around the world. It turned up a number of obscure meetings that I'll be attending in the coming months, but to my surprise it failed on several of my Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences. Roueche Score: 8 out of 10

Doctor's Review logo Although it's targeted at Canadians, Doctor's Review provides a fairly extensive listing of medical meetings in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. I was only able to stump it on a few of the meetings mentioned in Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences. The listings are very basic; just the conference title, location, date, a phone number and/or email address of a contact, and the URL of a web page, which, annoyingly, is not hotlinked. Someone needs to tell those Canadians that PUTTING LISTINGS IN ALL CAPS SEEMS LIKE SHOUTING, AND IT'S VERY HARD ON THE EYES. Roueche Score: 7 out of 10

Google Directory logo I've been a fan of Google for many years, but the Google Directory of science conferences is amazingly incomplete. It lists a total of just 76 conferences in medicine, for example. The search function is essentially non-existent, and the only information provided about each conference is a link to the conference site. Worthless. Roueche Score: 1 out of 10 Update 10/2010. Now completely defunct. Roueche Score: 1 out of 10 logo fails to list many huge and popular medical meetings, not to mention the more obscure ones. That's too bad, because the interface has promise, and the site has many features that could be useful to meeting travelers, including maps, weather, tourist information, restaurant lists, and checklists. Roueche Score: 2 of 10 Update 10/2010. Defunct. Roueche Score: 0 of 10

HON logo The Health on the Net Foundation has a conference finder site that has some excellent features. The listings are fairly extensive, especially so for CME meetings, but it still fails to list many of my Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences. The standout feature of this site is the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds and podcasts (!) that provide alerts to meetings in a long list of medical specialties. The site has detailed descriptions of meeting content and links to the meeting's web site, but no direct-contact phone numbers or email addresses. Roueche Score: 6 out of 10

hum-molgen logo The HUM-MOLGEN (human molecular genetics) list of meetings and conferences is narrow but deep. If you're looking for a basic-research or clinical conference on cell biology, molecular genetics, biotechnology, or related fields, this is probably the place to come. No real search feature, except that you can list meetings by date, by subject, or by continent. Links lead to reasonably detailed meeting info. Roueche Score: 9 of 10 (for its narrow subject area) or 3 of 10 overall.

JAMA logo The Journal of the American Medical Association and it's 10 sister "Archives" journals have a very selective calendar of events. Hardly any of my Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences are listed, and there are even some fairly large conferences without listings. But the conferences that are listed are described completely, with all the details one would need for obtaining additional information. The search function is full-featured; too bad that there's not that much to search. Roueche Score: 4 out of 10 logo claims to list 7,000 medical conferences, and indeed their listings seem to be fairly extensive, especially when it comes to CME. The search function is intuitive. But I couldn't find listings for many of my Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences, and there were significant errors in some of its listings. For example, the site claims that the huge American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) 2007 meeting is in Honolulu, when it's actually in San Diego. I can't trust a site with an error that big. Roueche Score 2 out of 10 Update 10/2010: Appears to be defunct. Roueche Score: 0 of 10

MediConf logo MediConf appears to be the detritus of a business plan gone bad. It promises the visitor a look at one month of meetings for free. Additional viewing costs $19 (U.S.) per month per country or region. Unfortunately the site doesn't seem to have been updated with any new meetings since December 2004. It's puzzling that this site shows up so high a Google search for medical conferences. Roueche Score: 1 out of 10 Update 10/2010: Defunct. Roueche Score: 0 of 10

MeetingsNet logo The MeetingsNet Medical Meetings Finder misses many meetings, even some of the bigger ones. Hardly any of my Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences are listed. Information on the meetings it does find is very limited, offering only dates, locations, the name of the meeting hotel (but no phone number or link), and the name, address, and phone number of the meeting sponsor (but no URL or email address). Roueche Score: 2 out of 10 Update 10/2010: This site focuses on meeting planners.

NatureEvents logo NatureEvents, sponsored by Nature magazine, covers all areas of science, not just medicine. I didn't evaluate listings in physics, astronomy, or basic biology, but in medicine the listings are woefully inadequate. Many big meetings aren't listed, not to mention the more obscure ones. On the other hand, the meetings that are listed include detailed information, even lists of speakers in some cases. Roueche Score: 2 out of 10

NEJM logo The New England Journal of Medicine lists only the largest meetings, and not even all of those. Hardly any of my Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences are listed. Results of a search are, annoyingly, in alphabetical and not date order. Roueche Score: 2 out of 10

Newswise logo I wanted to like the Newswise conference listings, because Newswise is an excellent resource for journalists, with searchable, embargoed press releases, lists of writing awards, and a number of other interesting features. Unfortunately its Calendar of Medical Meetings is woefully inadequate. Hardly any of my Excellent but Little Known Medical Conferences are listed, and some popular meetings are missing as well. There's no search function at all. Roueche Score: 1 out of 10 Update 10/2010: The Newswise conference listings are somewhat improved since I last visited, but it still misses many important meetings. Roueche Score: 3 of 10

Physician's Guide logo The Physician's Guide to the Internet lists only the largest, most popular meetings, but it has a pretty good list of those, including links to the meeting sponsor. No search function, but all meetings listed fit on a single web page, making it most convenient to employ a browser's text search function. The nicest feature of the listings on this page is that they have the dates and locations of not only this year's meetings, but also next year's and the year after that. If you want to know where some of the big meetings will be in 2009, this would be a good place to come. There are also links to sites that will help find restaurants near meeting sites. Roueche Score: 3 out of 10

The Bottom Line
Only 4 of the 16 sites listed here scored above 5 out of 10 on the Roueche Scale. Only two--Doctor's Guide and Doctor's Review--come close to being comprehensive, although props to the HON Meeting Finder Site for its innovative use of RSS feeds and podcasts and to HUM-MOLGEN for excellent listings in its narrow field of interest.

Update, March 27, 2008
Thanks to reader Adam for alerting me to CME Networks, a new player in medical conference listings. Here's my review:

This site is fairly decent on strictly CME meetings, but very, very poor indeed on larger meetings, even ones that have large CME components. While it has a search feature that allows you to search by specialty or keyword, you can't easily combine keywords. For example, there's no convenient ways to find all pediatrics meetings in May or all emergency medicine meetings in San Francisco. They do offer monthly newsletters related to individual specialties, which is nice, as well as an embryonic and little used blog function. Roueche Score: 3 out of 10

Update, October 30, 2010
Thanks to reader IV for alerting me to Clocate, another new player in medical conference listings. Here's my review:

A near perfect site. Listings appear to be fairly comprehensive, and in many cases meetings are listed several years in advance. There's an excellent search function that lets you find meetings by date, category, subject, and location in additional to keywords. Highly recommended, but I docked them a half-point since they didn't have a listing for next year's American Academy of Pediatrics meeting (but this year's just ended). Roueche Score: 9.5 of 10

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gear, Part 1: Digital Voice Recorders

I record all my interviews and all the conference sessions that I cover, and I've been doing so ever since I started in this profession 27 years ago. I'm just not fast enough at taking notes to get exact quotes down, and I also find that listening to a talk a second time enhances my understanding.

In that 27 years I've gone through somewhere between 6 and 10 recorders. At the start I was buying fairly cheap cassette recorders. They were bulky, the sound quality was lousy, and they tended to break in a year or two.

Then I bought a microcassette recorder. It was small, which was terrific, but the sound quality was even lousier. And although the microcassettes were much smaller than standard cassettes, they didn't stack as well, so they were more difficult to store and organize. And the recorders tended to break in a year or two.

Then I decided that I needed something of higher quality, something intended especially for journalists. Sony came out with a line of high quality Pressman cassette recorders. Although they used standard cassettes, they were hardly bigger than 2 or 3 cassettes. They seemed quite sturdy, with metal casings, and they had lots of neat features, the best of which was an index function. When someone came out with a good quote, I could push a button. When listening to the tape later, I could fast-forward until I heard a special sound, which marked the index location. The sound wasn't broadcast quality, but it was much better than I had been used to. These Sony Pressman recorders didn't come cheap--about $200. But they tended to break in a year or two. I went through four of them.

The last one broke in the middle of a meeting. On a Sunday. At a resort far from any big cities. It was 20 miles to the nearest open Radio Shack, where the only cassette recorder was this big bulky thing that cost $19.95. I considered myself lucky when it lasted for the remaining day of the conference.

It was at that point that I started looking into digital voice recorders. I quickly determined that Olympus made the ones that were best for my purposes. I ended up with an Olympus DM-1 (which is no longer made). I've had it for almost 4 years now, and I haven't had the slightest problem with it.

I think the main reason is that it has no moving parts. Cassette recorders have lots of moving parts, and they need to move with quite a bit of precision. If one little plastic gear in its guts gets a little bit out of alignment, the recorder is toast. But digital recording does not depend on moving a long magnetic ribbon past a recording head at a constant speed. Instead the sound information is digitized and stored on the equivalent of a flash drive; a SmartMedia card in the case of the DM-1. A single 128 MB SmartMedia card can store 22 hours at the highest quality setting (still well below broadcast quality), enough for an entire meeting.

Each separate talk can be a separate file, and within each file I can put up to 16 index marks. That makes it far easier to go straight to the talk I want to listen to, and then straight to the most interesting or quotable parts of that talk.

Then I download the files to my computer through a USB cable or with a card reader. And then I use the free software that came with the recorder to transcribe the recording. I also purchased a foot pedal that makes it even easier to transcribe. The recording plays as long as I keep the middle pedal pushed down, and stops the instant I lift my foot. And I've set the software to back up 2 seconds automatically, so when I put my foot back on the pedal it's easy to pick up where I left off. (The left pedal is fast forward, and the right one is reverse.)

The biggest drawback of the DM-1 is that the sound quality with the built-in mic isn't great. I've purchased an external Sony ECM-F01 Flat Mic, which helps a lot, although it's still no where near broadcast quality.

The Olympus DM-1 isn't being sold any more, which is too bad because I like its snazzy blue color. The ones out right now are pretty much silver or black. But I covet the top-of-the-line DS-50, which offers 275 hours of stereo recording and a removable stereo microphone. Unfortunately, I don't expect my DM-1 ever to fail.

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