Friday, March 25, 2011

Quality control of Conferences

'Whatever you do, do it well.'
This is the principle I and my friends were taught-by parents, grand parents and teachers.
The recent Common wealth games sadly brought to the notice of India and the world that Indians believe problems will sort themselves out. And embarrassed a young nation with shabby construction and toilets. And corruption and poor hygiene standards.
The west used to laugh at Japanese goods, till the Japanese took care of quality-in their cars, electronics and everything.
In the movie 127 hrs, the hero uses a Chinese knife to cut stone and then curses it for being Chinese and regrets leaving his Swiss knife at home-as if the Swiss knife would cut the boulder! Western nations never miss an opportunity to criticise Chinese goods.
India escapes this criticism because we don't make that many finished goods.
But the quality of what we produce, would even make the Chinese laugh.
A recent decree by the Medical Council of India has made it mandatory for Indian doctors to attend conferences and get credit points to renew their licence to practice.
There is hence a mad rush to attend all conferences.
But the MCI would do well to evaluate conferences that they are forcing us to attend.
Most speakers are chosen from among the elected committee members of the body organising the conferences or their friends.
The topic the speaker speaks on is sometimes not of their core competency, or a field where the speaker has researched. Occasionally, the entire talk is downloaded from the Net or books or Journals or prepared by the company whose product the speaker uses. As a result the audience gets no information about the actual practical issues in a topic or can well read up the topic themselves without attending the conference!
Most speakers have a set of prepared subjects that they keep repeating all the time. So we hear the same things at various conferences for years on the end.
The same thing is seen with panel discussions/workshops/debates-tremendous repetition of inconsequential data.
To all the Presidents and managing committee members of various medical organisations-past, present and future, may I offer the following suggestions to make the conference worth our while when we leave our patients, families and leisure to come and listen to you?
1. Choose the topics  and the sub topics for the conference well-let it be approved by atleast 2 more members so as to be relevant and practical to an average gynaecologist while highlighting newer fields and problem areas.e.g High Intensity Focussed Ultrasound with MRI guidance. Pelvic floor repair. The latest in Ovulation Induction.
2. Get Surgeons, Physicians, Anaesthetists, Urologists, Embryologists-all the people from allied fields to talk and let this be followed up by a talk by a Gynaecologist who has extensive experience in the same field. e.g. Cholecystectomy/ Appendectomy/  Multi drug resistant TB/ Malaria in pregnancy
3. Instead of saving up money for the organisation, spend it to get good international speakers who are actually doing path breaking research in their fields. Members fees come from their tax-they won't mind paying a bit more. Pharma companies are more than happy to help. Organise for more people instead of closing limited registrations.
4. For all the time and energy spent by managing committee members, don't give them meaningless lectures but let them get extra credit points for organising a conference. They can also be given preference for a lecture if they are doing work in the area.
5. Invite talks from all ordinary gynaecologists-let them present the jist of their talk beforehand and let it be approved by the managing committee before the person is given the opportunity e.g. removal of large fibroids through a minilaparotomy incision using a tonsillar knife to core out the fibroid.
6. Have a feedback form for the audience-speakers who get very adverse comments should not be repeated. e.g. a speaker who showed several different incisions for a caesarean section but had no explanation for choosing those incisions. Overseas speakers who are incomprehensible. Speakers who quote fake statistics, exceed their time and repeat their talk too often.
7. Introducing some standards like ISO 9000 towards conferences will help improve the level of the conferences.
 In today's information age where all lead journals are available at the click of a button, conferences will be relevant only if they highlight actual work and practical problems faced.
Conferences are for the benefit of the audience and not for the speakers or organisers.


  1. Great post Madam... having wasted my had earned money at two conferences this year, I agree completely.I guess it is time to 'Be the Change" we want...

  2. Yes, Priya. Lots of doctors have written to me confidentially that they agree but are afraid to speak up. I think the fight against corruption will embolden us all and we will raise our voice when it is needed.

  3. Excellent write up ma'am.. Agreed to most of the points.. How ever had one suggestion.. What if all the societies are allotted a topic for research well in advance and they have freedom to choose the best work amongst them and that is gone to the scientific committee for further approval at least for national conf like AICOG or ISAR.