During that little pandemic thing we dealt with 2020-2022, our structure, processes, and even values changed in many ways. It can be argued that many of these changes made us stronger, more flexible, and more efficient. Think of things like teleconferencing for meetings, billers working from home, porch drop off deliveries, and virtual equipment set up/instruction. We, as an industry, were pretty resilient. Some of the changes however were generally perceived to be negatives. For instance: we lost in-person customer service skills. Good, bad, or indifferent, our industry adapted to these changes quickly. In some cases, it’s safe to say we’re never going back.
One of the changes during the pandemic was that the live shows, conventions, conferences, and continuing education seminars went away or “went virtual”. I was in the habit of trying to attend what I refer to as the “trifecta” -- Med Trade, VGM Heartland, and the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) – or as many of them as I could -- in any given year. I got something different out of each show and while there was certainly overlap, for the most part, each show was unique and delivered something that couldn’t be had at the other shows.
Med Trade was an industry standard—an annual event which was originally held in Atlanta, but eventually began to rotate through many convention cities. They added a Med Trade West some years after the show was created. Both shows featured football fields sized tradeshow floors with displays, new product “pavilions”, and booth after booth after booth. It was the place to see and be seen and more often than not manufacturers and suppliers were there to wine and dine dealers and DME owners and staff in appreciation of their business. In fact, before the internet was firmly established, the annual trip to Med Trade was specifically a buying trip, with specials that could only be accessed if you attended the show.
VGM Heartland was similar in nature, but different in character. Like a homecoming weekend, Waterloo Iowa hosted the annual June event. Dealers would attend to see displays on the tradeshow floor, with specific dealers who had a relationship with VGM. It was kind of a condensed Med Trade with a walkable floor. Educational opportunities abounded. There were clinical and management “tracks” with seminars, talks, and roundtable discussion about every aspect of DME from billing to delivery to specialty topics like orthotics and home modification. The keynote speaker was always top notch. Oh, and there were epic parties, but that’s another topic altogether.
AARC was where I got my continuing education credits. Respiratory therapists would gather in a city (we rotated between about five or six different “convention towns” ---Vegas and New Orleans being my personal favorites) and hear the latest and greatest about respiratory care. There were a lot of hospital and clinical topics, but they always had a very solid homecare track with speakers, vendors, and networking opportunities. I met many of my peers from all over the country and developed lifelong friendships at AARC meetings. Our homecare section was led by industry icons who were always willing to share best practices and chat about the industry and where it was headed.
So, along comes this pandemic. A convention hall gathering with 5000 people was not conducive to social distancing. Clinical license regulatory authorities relaxed standards for continuing education and we found ways to network and learn and even socialize over Zoom. Who needs to fly to Atlanta or Vegas when you can accomplish essentially the same thing by logging on to the internet and turning your camera on?
Three years into it, I’d argue that it’s time to re-evaluate this new normal. Are we really getting the same thing out of a Zoom call that we do by attending these shows?
The thing that’s missing by “logging in” instead of “flying to” is the human interaction and all that goes with it. I’m not just talking about psychological and esoteric concepts. Truly, in person learning, meeting, and interaction is far superior. While Zoom and all the related technologies extend our ability to meet with colleagues around the world, the old adage that nothing beats a handshake is still true. Touching, feeling, and taking apart a new piece of equipment cannot be replicated on a virtual platform. The same goes for working with people. Negotiating and sealing the deals are best done in person. Those dinners and drinks in restaurants, tradeshow cafeterias, and hospitality suites were more than entertainment. They were where companies decided to carry new products, try new processes, and work with new suppliers.
I’m making a pitch for going back to those in person conventions, conferences, and seminars. Invest in the trip – clearly more money and time than logging in to Zoom. But absolutely worth it. Take the time to build and maintain those vendor and colleague relationships. Gain at least some new and insightful education in person rather than on line, where the interaction between the participants can be less meaningful and direct.
What made our industry great (and other industries as well, I’d assume) were those relationships and that interaction. Time spent at a conference or tradeshow is time well spent because of the sharing of experiences and best practices. I hope for the sake of our industry and for the sake of us personally as well that we can get back to those days. Hope to see you at a show sometime soon!