How to Attend a Medical Conference Without Actually Being There.

Well, I’ve done it again. It seems that every time I try to make the early registration deadline for a conference, something seems to come up. One of the kids gets sick, a transmission breaks, I have a crazy week at work, you know, life.

Unlike previous years however, I’m very excited to say that I will be making it to the American College of Chest Physician’s annual scientific meeting  at the end of October.

While I wasn’t able to make it to the conference every year, it turns out that I didn’t have to miss everything because I had a new and unique tool at my disposal. A tool that allowed me to catch a surprising amount of the action and actually obtain some of the benefits of the conference without actually being there: social media.

Because of the explosion in the use of social media at conferences, every attendee is potentially their own reporter. Attendees broadcast their thoughts on twitter with a hash tag followed by the name of the conference and the year. Thus, in a previous year I was able to follow Chest 2012 by simply following “#Chest2012” on twitter. Attendees use social media to discuss presentations in real time giving you clinical pearls, findings of the latest research in pulmonary, critical care, sleep, and thoracic medicine, and even post pictures of slides demonstrating important findings.

By simply following the twitter feed of a particular scientific conference, you can easily learn about the latest research, clinical pearls, even check out pictures of key slides during a presentation.

I have taken this approach to several meetings, even ones that may not necessarily be within my particular field.  For example, while it hasn’t been worthwhile for me to take the time and expense to attend Kidney Week or ASCO, or ACEP, I am interested to know what comes out of these conferences. Following the tweets from those conferences gives me practical information diluted from a week of scientific sessions.

While these benefits are useful, there’s another significantly more tangible benefit that comes from using social media, particularly while at the conference itself: networking.

Over the past year I have been excited to have made connections through social media with many colleagues around the country. But making those connections through social media is only the first step. Human beings are after all social creatures. Face to face connections are ultimately more productive and satisfying than anything that we can accomplish online. So at this year’s conference I will be looking to use twitter as a tool help me connect with my colleagues at my next conference. By being active at the meeting and sharing my experiences through social media I’ll surely add to the community of professionals with which I interact.

How often do you strike up a conversation and get to know the person sitting next to you at a scientific conference? Not often. But on twitter I’ll be asking my twitter peeps, (mostly people I’ve never met before) to join me for a beer after the session. Maybe two.  It’s like networking on steroids, call it Networking 2.0. These connections lead to discussions about patient care, business opportunities, and research. The serious work and business of medicine.

So if you’re at a scientific meeting with me this year, hit me up on twitter, and let’s talk about practicing science on the cutting edge. If you’re not there, listen and join in on the conversation. Maybe we can meet in person at a future conference.

Just please do me this one favor.  Could you maybe send me a reminder about making the early registration deadline  next year?