off record
Shaukat Ali Jawaid


 Ensuring time management, 
Quality of presentations
at conferences


It is heartening to note that most of the professional specialty organizations and medical institutions are now regularly holding their conferences which provide an opportunity to the healthcare professionals to share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues. However, when it comes to the time management or quality of the presentations, at times it leaves much to be desired. I have a humble request and a few suggestions to the conference organizers to improve their quality. First of all they are all highly competent, talented and intelligent people and they know what is ethical and what is unethical but despite that,  lot of unethical practices are evident at most of these conferences.

To ensure the success of any such academic activity, it is extremely important that the organizers put up an interesting scientific programme. For that it is essential that there must be a scientific committee and all the presenters should be asked to share the highlights of their presentations by sending an abstract or summary of their talks.  It is not necessary that every one has to speak at the conference, let the scientific committee select only those talks which are worth presentation or have some message for the participants which will help improve patient care, improve medical practice or help the policy makers. Speakers who have some new ideas should also be entertained but allowing someone to make the same or similar presentations again and again is just insulting the intelligence of the audience. It should not be allowed at any cost, whosoever the presenter may be.

Secondly there should not be more than five to six presentations in a session. Except State of the Art or Plenary Talk, the time for presentations should be just fifteen minutes. The moderator of the session and Chairpersons must ensure time management and audience must be provided enough time for discussion after the presentations. If there is no discussion, making the presentation is of no use. It has been observed that sometime the most interesting points are highlighted during the discussion. It also provides the audience a sense of participation and speakers an opportunity to clarify certain points so that their message is conveyed effectively. With the revolution in information technology, timers can be used, speakers can be alerted to wind up their presentation in the next two to three minutes. All this is possible and it is being practiced by some time conscious conference organizers.

It is also highly unethical to allow the drug companies display their company, drug banners in the hall where the scientific sessions are in progress.  They should be restricted to the pharmaceutical and medical exhibition area. No lucky draw should be permitted during the scientific sessions as well.

Although ideally all such academic activities should be organized within the medical institutions but if it is not possible due to some reasons, let the organizes ensure to minimize the conference expenditures as it is all paid for and sponsored by the pharmaceutical trade and industry which then passes it on to the patients in the shape of costly drugs and services. Each lunch and dinner at these hotels, it must be remembered, does deprive a few patients of their medications. Non affordability of drugs by most patients is one of the important reasons for non-compliance with therapy. If the conference organizers keep these points in mind, healthcare professionals ensure rational prescribing, taking help and guidance from clinical pharmacists if need be, the situation can improve a lot.  Let these conferences reflect the scientific image rather than of a family social get together by the healthcare professionals. Make sure that only those registered for the conference are seen around. Sometimes it is painful to see just fifty to sixty people sitting in the scientific sessions and over four to five hundred people at the time of lunch and dinner. Someone must take care of these un-invited guests.

There should be no need to present Shield to every speaker and the provision of bags to the conference participants can also be done away with. It all costs lot of money and again paid for by the drug industry and the patients. We can certainly do without that. Let the presentations of shields, mementoes be reserved for Chief Guest, Guest of Honour or those making state of the art or plenary presentations. The funds thus saved by the conference organizers should be used to offer scholarships, grants for research to postgraduates, young researchers, set up ward libraries, improving libraries and other services, adding new facilities and services at the healthcare facilities. National Bioethics Committee (NBC) formed by the Government of Pakistan in 2003 has prepared comprehensive Guidelines on Physicians interaction with Pharmaceutical Trade and Industry which takes care of all these things. These Guidelines have already been approved by PM&DC and the Federal Government but its implementation could not be undertaken as PM&DC itself was in turmoil.  The new PM&DC leadership, might have a look at it and initiate measures to get it implemented. Conscious people within the medical profession must wake up otherwise the unethical people in the pharma trade and industry will take them for a ride further tarnishing their image which is already perhaps at its lowest ebb these days.

Finally while it is commendable to organize these scientific meetings on the part of the professional specialty organizations but they should not be content with this alone. They can do a lot more. Let them move a bit away from the comfortable environment of the Five Star Hotels and start organizing some Medical Camps in the urban suburbs, small cities and towns from time to time and make available their services to those sections of the society who cannot afford to consult them at their private hospitals and clinics. They can even come up with a plan whereby their members can provide this service in rotation at certain venues which is feasible, practical and it will also go a long way in improving the image of the medical profession in the public.

I have always advocated the concept of self-monitoring and accountability by the medical profession because if they fail, some outside agency will do that and then it will be extremely painful for all of them. Why the HCPs are waiting for the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan or any other outside agency to tell them what is ethical and what is not and what they are supposed to do. Supreme Court of Pakistan has already taken notice of interventional cardiology procedures and is busy in fixing up the cost of stents, different interventional procedures. However, at the same time it is commendable that a few of the professional specialty organizations, associations as well as a few conference organizers have started complying with professional ethics while organizing their meetings. One hopes others will follow on the right path as it is all in their own interest.

Tail Piece: Pakistan is perhaps the only country in the world where during the last seventy years we have shot dead, hanged, executed, dismissed, forced to resign, humiliated and defamed the elected Prime Ministers and no one could complete their term. Pakistan has already paid a very heavy price for eliminating popular political leadership, not respecting the people’s mandate, not giving respect to the vote, engineered elections and what not with the result that we have lost half the country. Let us not make the same mistakes again and again, try to learn some lessons from those mistakes. Selective accountability and victimization will prove counterproductive. Try to win hearts and not create hatred. Undiluted democracy, free and fair elections (which at present unfortunately looks doubtful) is the only way out and road to peace, progress, development and prosperity. Let democracy flourish. Currently we are passing through very difficult times, there is lot of suffocation in the environment and it is difficult to breath. Let us hope that better sense prevails on all those concerned and we once again start moving in the right direction on the road to progress and prosperity.

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