Meeting Management

Cadavers, Lasers, and Paperwork

Medical convention planners face unique challenges, ranging from the management of potential biohazards to dealing with a raft of regulations. Here is how a few of them get their job done.

It used to be that the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) could arrange for human cadaver heads to be shipped directly to the convention center where its Annual Meeting was being held. Approximately 1,000 ophthalmologists practice various procedures on the heads as part of “skills transfer labs” at the meeting. It was an efficient process, “but all that changed in the late ’80s or early ’90s,” said Debra Rosencrance, CMP, CAE, AAO’s vice president of meetings and exhibits, “as concern about HIV and pathogens arose.”

It’s just one example of how medical meeting planners have learned to work with changing laws and requirements. In AAO’s case, the cadaver heads, which come from the anatomical department of a medical school, now must be shipped to a medical facility near the venue — this year’s Annual Meeting took place on Nov. 10–13 at Chicago’s McCormick Place — and AAO hires a medical technician to pick them up and bring them to the meeting, Rosencrance said. The technician makes sure the heads are handled properly — such as making sure the climate around the specimens is closely controlled — and then returns them to the medical facility after the meeting.

The 18 exhibitors who operated live lasers on the show floor had to adhere to strict criteria and pass a safety inspection.

High-tech equipment also requires special care on the medical trade-show floor. At the Annual Conference of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS), for example, powerful medical lasers are exhibited and demonstrated to prospective buyers. During ASLMS’s 2012 conference, held in April in Kissimmee, Fla., the 18 exhibitors who operated live lasers on the show floor had to adhere to strict criteria and pass a safety inspection, according to Dianne Dalsky, ASLMS’s executive director.

David Sliney, Ph.D., ASLMS’s safety director, said that he must ensure “that there are no stray beams that can leave the exhibit and that all higher-energy lasers are safely contained in enclosures or disabled so that they cannot operate.” Because treatment of patients and “laser exposure of humans is not permitted,” Sliney said, “many [exhibitors] have enclosures so that the doctor can try out the handpiece and direct [the laser] at a fruit or similar object.”

Dealing with potential biohazards and powerful equipment is daunting enough, but Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, president and CEO of St. Louis–based Meeting I.Q., said that one of the biggest challenges faced by medical meeting planners is much more mundane: keeping up with paperwork required by the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. “What the government is asking,” Schaumann said, “is that we submit a report after a meeting or event that lists the physician attendees and the spend [by the manufacturers] per physician during the meeting.”

Despite the extra effort this requires on the part of the meeting organizer, Schaumann understands the rationale. “The whole point of the law,” she said, “is improving patient care and ensuring that manufacturers aren’t influencing doctors.”

Vetting It Out

Managers of medical meetings involving biotechnology-derived products or sensitive equipment need to alert supplier partners early in the process, said Meeting I.Q.’s Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP. “When you’re dealing with health issues or anything that poses a risk, you need to find out everything you can about it and share that with suppliers,” she said. That information should then go into the RFP, so venues that are not prepared to deal with such issues can weed themselves out of the process.

Schaumann remembers once walking into a hotel that was hosting a veterinary convention, and it becoming clear that hotel staff were not expecting the displays they saw. “There were all these dead birds all over the place,” Schaumann said. “The hotel personnel were worried about germs – the housekeeping people, the food-and-beverage people, everyone was afraid.”

That situation was an exception, however, Schaumann said. For experienced medical planners, alerting suppliers to the special needs of their events comes with the territory. She said: “It’s routine for them.”

More Resources

Learn more about AAO at and ASLMS at

Ed Avis is a freelance writer.

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