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American Thoracic Society conference day 5

Monday, May 18, 2015

From British Thoracic Society Chief Executive, Sheila Edwards, at the American Thoracic Society conference

This is my last blog from #ATS2015.  As soon as the exhibition closes on Tuesday I will be heading off to the airport, along with many other delegates, back to the UK. Others will return on Wednesday, and more on Thursday as the programme and Assembly meetings continue.

I have had some time to think about why people attend conferences like this in between my meetings and tea brewing.  Partly because the BTS Winter Meeting 2015 programme is out this week and I had some copies with me.  People have been looking at it while sipping their polystyrene cups of good old Yorkshire Tea and I have had quite a few comments about it.  Many people have said that they think BTS is getting it more or less right- a blend of new science and translational and clinical applications.  And, at fewer than 2,500 delegates annually, a good size for networking,   I have been urged to encourage more activities and content for Early Career Investigators, and it was really good to meet BALR Committee members, BLF and some industry colleagues today to start to think about how we might do this.  ATS certainly shows the way to go in this regard.

I don't know how many delegates have been present overall during the last few days.  More than usual from UK (thanks again to ATS for the generous offer to BTS members for delegate fees this year) - I have seen the figures.   Certainly more than some of those who view attendance numbers as the most significant measure would have us believe (lighten up, folks) but also fewer than numbers 5-6 years ago.

But by golly, what a HUGE carbon footprint this, and other annual international respiratory conferences, have.  Does this matter?   How else might we do this?    Must we have such massive exhibits?  Could the major organisations involved not work together more closely to agree a slightly extended timetable for annual conferences - so that each has a conference every 18 months instead of every year?  

No-one denies the value of peers meeting like this to learn, debate, collaborate and develop. But could technology help change the way we do this?

Patient groups and advocacy organisations really value the opportunity to meet clinicians and researchers and there are many organisations here that would feel bereft of a chance to spread the word about what they do if these conferences did not exist.  But how serious can we be about air quality and the impact of environmental and climate change on lung health while tens of thousands of delegates each year fly to venues and consume huge quantities of 'stuff'?  

How else might we do it? What do you think? Tell us about the best virtual conferences you've attended and respiratoryfutures.org.uk will work to give any subsequent debate around this some real purpose.