Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Are Medical Conferences Useful? And for Whom?

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

A medical doctor (who himself is a big draw at medical conferences) has recently questioned the motives and utility of medical conferences. [Mythbuster Ioannidis: Are Medical Conferences Really Useful?]

He believes much of the presented research findings  are not fully peer-reviewed, and thus cannot  fully educate, train, or contribute to evidence-based practice. Often findings at medical conferences are seized upon by the popular press and prematurely promoted as having sound scientific evidence. Quite often these findings change with peer review and are later published with the revisions and modified findings in scientific journals.

Excerpt from the 4 April 2012 JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) article
(The full text of this article is by subscription only, these excerpts came from a related posting at

An estimate of more than 100 000 medical meetings per year may not be unrealistic, when local meetings are also counted. The cumulative cost of these events worldwide is not possible to fathom.

Do medical conferences serve any purpose? In theory, these meetings aim to disseminate and advance research, train, educate, and set evidence-based policy. Although these are worthy goals, there is virtually no evidence supporting the utility of most conferences. Conversely, some accumulating evidence suggests that medical congresses may serve a specific system of questionable values that may be harmful to medicine and health care.

The availability of a plethora of conferences promotes a mode of scientific citizenship in which a bulk production of abstracts, with no or superficial peer review, leads to mediocre curriculum vita building. Even though most research conferences have adopted peer-review processes, the ability to judge an abstract of 150 to 400 words is limited and the process is more of sentimental value.

Moreover, many abstracts reported at the medical meetings are never published as full-text articles even though abstract presentations can nevertheless communicate to wide audiences premature and sometimes inaccurate results. It has long been documented that several findings change when research reports undergo more extensive peer review and are published as completed articles.* Late-breaker sessions in particular have become extremely attractive prominent venues within medical conferences because seemingly they represent the most notable latest research news. However, it is unclear why these data cannot be released immediately when they are ready and it is unclear why attending a meeting far from home is necessary to hear them. A virtual online late-breaker portal could be established for the timely dissemination of important findings….

…Power and influence appear plentiful in many of these meetings. Not surprisingly, the drug, device, biotechnology, and health care–related industries make full use of such opportunities to engage thousands of practicing physicians. Lush exhibitions and infiltration of the scientific program through satellite meetings or even core sessions are common avenues of engagement. Although many meetings require all speakers to disclose all potential conflicts, the majority of speakers often have numerous conflicts, as is also demonstrated in empirical evaluations of similar groups of experts named on authorship lists of influential professional society guidelines.”

Ioannidis doesn’t discard the entire notion of conferences.  In fact, he projects what “repurposed” conferences might be like:

“Repurposed conferences could be designed to be entirely committed to academic detailing (ed. note: drug company “educational” outreach to physicians). All their exhibitions and satellite symposia would deal with how to prescribe specific interventions appropriately and how to favor interventions that are inexpensive, well tested, and safe. Such repurposed conferences could also focus on how to use fewer tests and fewer interventions or even no tests and no interventions, when they are not clearly needed.”


Related Resources


April 10, 2012 Posted by | Biomedical Research Resources | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tips on Locating Conference Proceedings

Scientific and medically related meeting items are not easily found.  Meeting papers and abstracts at many conferences and congresses are not always readily available on the Internet. Below are a few tips for locating conference proceedings.

Please do not hesitate to contact a reference librarian at a local academic or hospital institution for assistance. Levels of assistance vary among libraries, so please call ahead!
You may also email me at I will reply within 48 hours in most cases.

Index and database suggestions

Very often published meeting items (as abstracts and papers)are included in  a scientific or medical journal. While a journal itself may be online, much of its content may not be free. However, many journals are freely available at an academic or medical library through institutional subscriptions. Call ahead and ask for a reference librarian.
Here are a few good places to start searching:

  • PubMed (premier source of biomedical information)
  • Library catalogs, including university library catalogs ; shared library catalogs as OhioLINK and WorldCat
  • CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health) Available at many academic libraries
  • Subscription based indexes and databases available at many academic libraries, as PapersFirst (OCLC), Proceedings First (OCLC), Web of Science Conference Proceedings Citation Index (ISI), BIOSIS Previews/Biological Abstracts, CSA/Proquest (Conference Proceedings Index) and Academic Search Premier

Tips on locating the full text of any freely available  items on the Internet

  • Search using more than one search engine. Google does not search the entire World Wide Web (WWW). Other options include,, and [science search engine]. Check the search engine’s Search Tips or Help area for tips on effective searches.
  • Search for the sponsoring conference or association. At times the conference itself will have a Web site. Some organizations provide the full text of some or all meeting items.
  • For example, the XVIII International AIDS Conference provides abstracts and Webcasts.
  • Search using the author’s name. Include his or her affiliation (as a university) to help narrow the search.

Consider contacting the author or the association which sponsored the meeting
Associations and organizations may charge for their services. Many authors are happy to share their publications.


October 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: