There’s a movement afoot called Patients Included, whose charter for health conference organizers includes ensuring patients are not excluded or exploited at health conferences. This includes having patients on the organizing committees, patients presenting and attending the conference, offering subsidies for patient travel, accommodation & registration and modifications made for patients with disabilities.
Now this is interesting stuff.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post called Who Speaks For Patients, Anyhow? It included a handy table about the spectrum of engagement of patients at conferences.
Since then, I am grateful for having been asked to speak at a number of health conferences. I have been thinking about why some conferences are patient-friendly, and why others are not. (True story: I had an abstract accepted at a conference with a theme of the patient experience, and I was told I had to pay $450 registration fee in order to show up and give my 30 minute talk. Um, no thanks. The only way patient speakers will be valued at conferences is if we start saying ‘no’ to these requests to volunteer. It reminds me of writers writing for free. Just don’t do it).
But here is how some health conferences ‘get it’ and include patients, the very people who they care for and serve, the very people who are the subject of their conferences.
There is one champion on the organizing committee who puts up their hand and asks: why don’t we have a patient speaker? If they are pooh-poohed, then they put their hand up again and ask the same question, persistently and politely. Eventually this not-so-quiet lobbying pays off, and the organizers decide to try out a patient speaker. Maybe this is just on a panel or a breakout. That’s ok; it is a start. Maybe they take a big leap of faith and ask a patient to open their conference.
With the right speaker, the conference participants can be inspired. The rest of the conference is grounded by the patient voice. The participants are reminded why they are doing what they do, and this helps rekindle their passion in their profession.
Now, after I got the crap beat out of me after speaking at a conference, I was told that health professionals don’t come to conferences to hear patients – they need a break from patients because they hear them all day long. That’s pretty sad. These are perhaps the types of health conferences who should not be asking patients to be involved.
The smartest of health professionals know what they don’t know, and they understand the power of the patient voice at their conference. For it reminds them of the humanity of health care, the heart of health care and the caring in health care. Bravo to those champions with their arms raised at those organizing committee tables – this includes Jeff Whissell, Sharla King, Tara Hatch, Arden Barry, Laurene Black, Teresa Bateman, Frank Gavin and Karen Latoszek – amongst others. I’ll bet if you try including patients in your conference, you will never ever turn back.