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Conference overload

For a relatively small industry, there sure are a ton of conferences.

From WCRI to NCCI to AASCIF to CSIA to CLM to PRIMA to NWCDC to SIIA to WCI360 to RIMS to AFERM to the ExecuSummit and dozens of other national events, to state WC events in Montana, California, Georgia and every other state, to payer-sponsored confabs, to provider-centric events you could spend most of the year scheduling, traveling to, preparing for, and attending conferences.

While there’s no doubt a lot can be learned – at some events from some speakers – it’s also pretty clear we’ve got so many conferences it has become impossible to figure out which ones are the most useful, provide the most insight, and are the most efficient use of your time.

On top of the sheer number of events, there are three additional issues; many have become pay-to-present, and the emphasis on drawing specific types of attendees has affected – I would argue negatively – actual learning opportunities.

Lastly, there’s far too much navel-gazing and far too little emphasis on external factors that directly affect workers’ comp.

Allow me to explain.

It is damn near impossible to get a speaking slot at many events unless your employer is a conference sponsor or a very large employer.  That’s not to say some presentations aren’t useful and worthy of your time, and some listeners can’t come away with something useful. Rather it is to call attention to the lack of diversity among presenters, the seemingly repetitive topics, the lack of much of anything new or insightful.

Do we really need another session on return to work or managing cat injuries or heaven forbid, predictive analytics?

Yeah, I get there are always folks new to work comp that find value in learning the basics, but there’s far too much time spent rehashing things that have been hashed to death.

There are innovative, smart, insightful entities and people out there who are pushing the industry to be better, innovate, do stuff smarter. It’s often tough for them to get a slot because they aren’t able to sponsor internet cafes, refreshment breaks, newsletters or buy big exhibit space.

Second, some conferences push to include speakers from types of organizations that potential attendees want to meet, get to know and hopefully do business with. One example is the emphasis on employers, which appears to be based at least in part on the idea that more brokers and consultants will attend.

Ostensibly the point in having an employer talk about an issue, solution, approach or program is so other employers can learn from that. While there’s a kernel of value there, I’d argue that what is relevant for a big airline, a major big-box retailer, a multi-state manufacturer or large healthcare system is not going to be terribly relevant to the other employer types on the list.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “well, if I had a thousand workers in XYZ city I could negotiate with an occ clinic too”, or “how do I apply that to my interstate trucking company” or “yeah that’s not going to fly with my unionized workforce”.

Finally, when was the last time a presentation dove into:

  • the impact of provider consolidation on healthcare delivery and cost;
  • why and how healthcare systems and hospitals are driving up expenses;
  • how recessions impact workers’ comp;
  • the second-order effects of opioids and the dramatic reduction of same on claim reserves, future premiums, and actuarial models; or
  • the changing nature of our economy and how that will affect workers’ comp

I know these topics have seen some daylight, but nowhere near enough, for they are MUCH more important and will have MUCH greater impact than tweaks to RTW or cat injury management ever could.

What does this mean for you?

For conference planners, there’s an opportunity to break out from the usual and differentiate.

For conference attendees, reward those planners – and learn a lot more useful stuff.


7 thoughts on “Conference overload”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I enjoy the shows, conferences workshops etc, but they can be redundant. I know of a lot of people out there with interesting topic ideas who are good presenters, but always seem to be turned down to speak. There are some people I hear over and over that I learn something new from every time and there are others that need to work on their presentation skills. As a provider it can be difficult to choose which ones will be the most beneficial. Overall I enjoy most of the ones I go too, but can see the over saturation of them. I for one would like to see topics about the negative impacts of poor providers on a claim, how DME can impact a claim, or even something as basic as how to communicate appropriately.

  2. Joe, I think you’re on to something here. I limit the number of conferences I attend each year and alternate some with others. Still the pay to play aspect is troublesome. Have you, as an intellectual exercise, thought of an ideal agenda or mix of employer vs. industry content? Granted large conferences are expensive to produce it does sometimes seem the main point is making a profit rather than the content.

  3. I started my blog with the hope that it would lead me back into WC after experiencing a few jobless recoveries, lack of employment here in Florida, and going back to school for a degree in Health Administration, which I believed would deepen my knowledge. However, that did not happen. Instead, my idea was dismissed by one of these popular attendees and well-known personage in the industry as “stupid and ridiculous, and a non-starter.” I have tried for five of my almost seven years of blogging to arouse interest in an out-of-the box idea, but not only have I been ignored by one industry, but by two. So, I decided to spend more time on health care issues, especially advocating for Medicare for All. If that has made me less worth of attention, it is not because of my advocacy, but because people are protecting their interests and jobs by opposing this rational answer to our dysfunctional, and profit-driven health care system. I only went to three conferences in Medical Travel, and spoke at one in Mexico. The least the WC industry could have done was to invite me, or have an employer hire me at some appropriate level. I continue to ask for part-time, remote work, but get no responses. That is why I am now retired as far as Social Security is concerned, but financially, I could use some work.

  4. Joe, You are dead on with the growing pay-to-play scenario. One of the most disturbing parts of that scheme is the failure of those conferences to disclose that arrangement. Attendees taking precious time and spending limited resources in the hopes of broadening their horizons deserve to know if the presenter paid for the opportunity to speak before them. It certainly makes a difference in the perception of quality, in my book.

  5. Joe, I just saw a cost/benefit analysis of two conferences that focused almost entirely on the number of session compared with the costs. As you say, that misses the point. It’s how to measure quality of the sessions. If I can hear one fantastic, insightful new idea (and a truly new idea) that makes the conference worthwhile and cost-effective. To some degree it doesn’t matter who sponsors the session (but I agree that in almost all cases, a sales pitch would never make my list of insightful sessions). And Bob is right-on when it comes to disclosure of any finanlcial relationship between the presenter and the conference. I may have a bias, but the best conference focus on quality not quantity.

  6. And I’ll add to the fact that it makes it more difficult for local groups to compete with all of the various of regional/national conferences- our annual conference (Arizona Self-Insurers Assoc) is our main fundraiser to pay for lobbying/legislative efforts in Arizona. With more and more industry events, it’s a struggle to come up with interesting topics/speakers every year that hasn’t been discussed ad nauseam or repeated at another conference. We’ve also noticed a loss in vendors since their budget is already spread thin from attending all the out-of-state events.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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