AHA Scientific Sessions: despite lower attendance, cardiologists insist the show must go on

Shelley Wood

October 31, 2001

Wed, 31 Oct 2001 23:16:38

Anaheim, CA - Amid media reports citing drastic drops in attendance at major conventions and conferences in the US following the September 11th attacks, organizers of the American Heart Association's annual Scientific Sessions state they have had minimal cancellations and fully expect to have busy, well-attended sessions.

"Our registration to date is running approximately 20 to 25% percent behind this time last year," Judith Collier-Reid (Vice-President of Meetings and Science Marketing, AHA) told heart wire . However, Collier-Reid points out that Anaheim as a venue for the annual meeting always draws about 10% fewer delegates than the New Orleans site. As such, the true proportion of cancellations reflecting a reluctance to travel or congregate with colleagues likely hovers at between 10-15%. International registration is down 12% this year, according to current figures.

Speakers for this year's sessions appear, on the whole, to be attending. "Speaker cancellation on a normal year runs at 1 to 2%," Collier-Reid adds. "This year we have experienced a 4% cancellation rate; however, it is important to note that we have been able to replace speakers as cancellations have arisen."

Exact numbers for advanced registration will not be available for another week or two, says Collier-Reid.

Malign forces loose in the world

For family reasons, Dr ke Hjalmarson (Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Göteborg, Sweden) cannot attend the AHA meeting this year, but he insists this is his only reason for missing the sessions.

"I think it is important not to let terrorists change activities and traditions within the society, including the medical society," Hjalmarson told heart wire . "If we decide not to go to meetings such as the AHA Annual Meeting the terrorists will consider their attacks in New York and Washington even more successful in causing harm to the society. We should try to live as normally as possible and improve our security against terrorists."

Of like mind, Dr Eric Prystowsky (St Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis, IN) observed, "The tragic events of September 11th will be made worse if we give into the goals of the terrorists, that is, be wary of doing what we usually do for fear that some harm will come to us. I look forward to participating in the AHA meeting and am glad it was not canceled. It will be good to see friends and engage in scientific discourse."

Dr James Ferguson (Texas Heart Institute) told heart wire , "Sure, I'm more careful and more aware of the malign forces loose in the world. And yes, this is a personal decision. I'm sure there are plenty of people who won't be attending. Their decision, their lives, their priorities. I respect that. But I, for one, am going to be there."

A very different show

Having recently returned home to Edmonton, AB from the Canadian Cardiovascular Society meeting in Halifax, NS, Dr Paul Armstrong (University of Alberta, Edmonton) also plans to attend the Anaheim meeting as he has every year since 1969. He calls the meeting "the most important cardiovascular scientific meeting in the world," but says he understands why some people may choose not to go.

"Within days of the September 11th disaster, a young Muslim resident from Saudi Arabia who had his first paper accepted at this year's AHA meeting approached me with reservations about whether he could go, and the extraordinary anxiety amongst his family, relative to travel to the US," recalls Armstrong. "In particular he was concerned about the backlash [against] those of his faith." Armstrong also cited other colleagues who have opted to cancel their registration for this year's meeting.

"It appears that the events of September 11th have affected individuals outside the US in a variety of ways which, while understandable on the one hand, are most regrettable on the other," says Armstrong. "For many of us who look forward to this meeting annually, our attitude has simply been 'the show must go on' but clearly it will be a different show, less well-attended with a more security conscious and serious group of attendees."

Digging up different numbers

The AHA's optimism is not borne out in predictions drawn from a recent poll conducted by P\S\L Research, a Montreal-based medicine and pharmaceuticals opinion and market research firm. Using an Internet research tool, the group polled 184000 physicians in more than 200 countries, who hail from over 40 different areas of specialization.

The poll asked them how many conferences they went to last year, attended, or have registered to attend this year, and plan to attend in 2002. Extrapolating from these numbers, the projected decrease in conference attendance for the period of September to December 2001 will be approximately 46% from 2000. For 2002, however, conference attendance will likely bounce back, with people in some parts of the world planning to actually increase the numbers of major meetings they attend from the number they went to in 2000. In the US, a hefty proportion of people who balked at traveling to meetings at the end of this year, expect to get back to their normal routines by 2002, barring any further terrorist attacks.

Ripple effects

The decline in meeting attendance has broad-reaching effects economically. The McLean, VA-based Convention Industry Council predicts that convention industry revenue will drop by about $20 billion from last year's revenues of more than $96 billion, according to an October 23, 2001 report in the New York Times. The dip is attributed not only to the terrorist attacks and their aftermath, but also a slowing economy.

Meanwhile, newly released statistics from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) show a 33% decline in passenger traffic for the month of September 2001 compared to traffic during the same month last year, falling from 5362577 in 2000 to 3589558 in September 2001. By contrast, if you compare the month of August 2001 - before the terrorist attacks - to August 2000, passenger traffic actually increased by a total of 3.57% among domestic and international travelers.

Lastly, although it is too soon to draw any conclusions from the numbers, registration for the American College of Cardiology meeting in March 2002 is down slightly compared to the same time last year when people were registering for the 2001 meeting. As of October 28, 2001, 3767 have registered for the 2002 ACC meeting, compared to 4380 at this time last year, an ACC spokesperson told heart wire .



In their own words

Many thanks to members of theheart.org community who responded to our invitation to comment on the significance of this year's AHA scientific sessions in light of the September 11th attacks. Some of the responses are reprinted in full below.

Dr Herbert D Aronow, Cleveland Clinic Foundation

The events of 'nine-eleven' have deeply affected us all. The tremendous loss of life and the attack upon our personal freedoms have given each of us cause to reflect on that which we find most important. Among other ideals, we share a common desire to advance the field of cardiovascular medicine. While it may be tempting to retreat to the security of our homes and workplaces during these difficult times, we must not let these events derail our common mission. Now more than ever, it is essential that scientists, clinicians, educators, and students join together to further this cause at the American Heart Association annual Scientific Sessions.

Dr James J Ferguson, Texas Heart Institute

Many people will tell you that the world changed on September 11.

From my perspective, it wasn't necessarily the world that changed - just how we look at it. The rules are different. What heretofore was beyond our worst nightmares is now all too possible. Absolute evil does exist. We all feel more exposed, more vulnerable, more unsure, and have all altered our thinking (sometimes drastically) about what is important in our lives.

That said, I feel that attending the AHA meeting this year is important. It's so much a part of what we do as clinical and academic cardiologists. Sure, we can hunker down and lock ourselves in our houses, afraid to travel, afraid to open the mail, and afraid of whatever new horror is going to be inflicted on us by these maniacs.

And if we do, the maniacs have won, because they have not only destroyed planes and buildings and killed thousands of innocent people, they have changed our fundamental way of life. And I'm not ready or willing to do that.

I'm a physician, a researcher, a teacher. National meetings are where it all comes together for me. No, my career is not everything. One of those things that did change on September 11 was my perspective on my family (my wife, and kids, and dogs, and cats, and guinea pigs, and other assorted wildlife) and friends. Those relationships are clearer, brighter, more focused than before.

But moving cardiovascular care forward is important, too. No, I'm not particularly important in the process, and I'm certainly not going to do it by myself, but if anybody is going to, it is our clinical and academic community. And where that happens - where all the hot new data are laid out in front of us for the first time - is at the meetings.

Sure, I'm more careful and more aware of the malign forces loose in the world. And yes, this is a personal decision. I'm sure there are plenty of people who won't be attending. Their decision, their lives, their priorities. I respect that. But I, for one, am going to be there.

Some things don't change.

Paul W Armstrong, University of Alberta, Edmonton

The meeting is the most important cardiovascular scientific meeting in the world and brings together an outstanding cadre of international scientists, healthcare professionals, and industrial sponsors as well as the extraordinary and multiple components of the American Heart Association.

For residents in training, research nurses, and others it is an extraordinary opportunity to network and be exposed to the best of our discipline in the world. Within days of the September 11th disaster a young Muslim resident from Saudi Arabia who had his first paper accepted at this year's American Heart Association meeting approached me with reservations about whether he could go and the extraordinary anxiety amongst his family relative to travel to the US. In particular he was concerned about the backlash [against] those of his faith.

Within weeks two excellent research nurses booked to attend the American Heart Association meeting expressed reservations about their personal safety in traveling to Anaheim and opted not to attend. Last week, while traveling to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the site of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society meeting, a colleague who was a former resident and had attended each AHA meeting faithfully over the past decade, communicated to me that he had cancelled his reservations because of concerns expressed by his 9-year-old daughter.

Finally, an important meeting planned to develop a major collaboration around a large clinical trial will not occur because the sponsoring company has indicated that their non-US representatives will not be attending the AHA this year.

Thus it appears that the events of September 11th have affected individuals outside the US in a variety of ways, which, while understandable on the one hand, are most regrettable on the other. For many of us who look forward to this meeting annually, our attitude has simply been "the show must go on" but clearly it will be a different show, less well attended with a more security conscious and serious group of attendees.

-SW




Related links

1. [HeartWire > News; Sep 12, 2001]

2. [HeartWire > News; Oct 23, 2001]


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