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Congresses – a feeling of uncertainty (I)
A look back – The case of ECR

Rinckside 2020; 31,4: 7-8.


ext year, the European Congress of Radiology in Vienna will celebrate its 30th anniversary. After 24 years of arranging a European meeting every four years at different locations on the continent, the new era of the conference in Vienna began in 1991 – until 1999 every other year, then annually.

This and the following column try to give an impression of how ECR developed and how the Corona crisis could, or perhaps should influence the shape of this major medical conference.

I followed the ECR in Vienna closely. The title of one of my first columns about the European Congress of Radiology in Vienna was: “The European Congress of Radiology – a European success story." In the article I wrote:

“From 1999, the ECR will change from its two-year rhythm to being an annual congress. For some this is a controversial issue, although (or because) this move will establish the conference solidly as the main congress in Europe and, partly, Africa and the Middle East … Still, national conferences and, in particular, specialized seminars and small-scale teaching courses will continue to exist and flourish because they are the backbone of continuing education [1]."

Less than ten years later, the positive mood had been watered down:

"You are standing [at ECR], admiring the success, and watching the train depart in the wrong direction. Or are you on the wrong train? Is ECR catering to a younger generation of radiologists who tackle science, medicine, patient care, learning, teaching, and continuing education with a different approach from the generation before? ... The line separating science (or in this case medical radiology), commerce, and entertainment, between seriousness and show, has become blurred."

I didn't stand alone with these observations. Detailed feedback arrived fast:

"I only hope that the Rinckside column stirs some people into action and makes people take a critical look at the future of the congress. The ECR must respond to the needs of the average attendee. The ability to present high quality, state-of-the-art basic radiology practice should be high on the list."

Somebody else wrote:

"The commercialization of a major scientific platform has assumed alarming proportions ... At one end of the spectrum will be increasing ‘medical amusement tourism’ with lunch symposia, congress radio, and Mozart chocolate balls. At the other end will be specialist scientific conferences [2]."

ECR changed from a conference aimed at bringing the latest developments and presenting the existing standards of diagnostic imaging to European radiologists into an infotainment and sales show: “Europe's Biggest Medical Imaging Expo”. The number of members of the European Society of Radiology exploded to more than 120,000. Quantity killed quality. Overshooting commerce and partying replaced authority in diagnostics and therapy. What went wrong?

The European Society of Radiology describes its objective as follows:

“The mission of of ESR is to serve the healthcare needs of the general public by supporting scientific research, education and training while constantly striving to improve the quality of radiological practice.”

This description sounds a little strange to me because ESR is a professional society of radiologists, not an institution for the needs of the general public. Its main mission is to offer a platform for radiologists in Europe.


Commercial influence

It is always a matter of weighing up the pros and cons. Of course, seen from the management side there is a “myside bias" and the strong dependence on the healthcare industry. The managing team of ESR/ECR clings to the more commercial and infotainment belief, and dismisses those who promote the ideals of academia, to make scientific institutions both in academia and in commercial environments more transparent and accountable, and to generate an active agenda of ethical values and use of research.

Because most radiological conferences depend on the goodwill of commercial sponsors, meeting organizers have to bend to their rules and criteria, which also include more direct influence upon the contents of formerly “independent” scientific meetings, their speakers and chairmen.

The organization of ECR and connected conferences of the twenty-some sister societies created and incorporated during the last decades is extremely professional. The participants are pleased by everything running smoothly. However, in some instances the hosts remind the observer of first-time conference organizers trying to pack the schedule, thinking that more content will mean a better conference. It’s not true. Still, it might be financially more profitable.

ECR’s aggregate contents and diverse locations in town have become very perplexing and puzzling. The organizers try to attract and to serve a wide range of possibly interested people at different venues in Vienna simultaneously – at an inopportune time of the year. The jumbo ECR contributes to the confusion of the social media age instead of systematically offering to fill in gaps in knowledge and establishing a clinical link.

"The critical assessment is missing," one female radiologist from Italy commented to me at ECR some time ago. "The university radiologists are so far away from our life and daily problems.”

Another opinion: "I wonder what the ECR rationale is. So much precious time is taken up with all these product-related lunch sessions that lure people away from the mainstream courses. The ECR appears to be practicing blatant commercialism rather than education."

This was the situation in early 2020. Then Covid-19 struck.

Read Part II of this column.



References

1. Rinck PA. The European Congress of Radiology – a European success story. Rinckside 1997; 8,3: 9-11.
2. Rinck PA. From ECR 2006: Drive for perfection has potential downside. Rinckside 2006; 17,1: 1-3.



Citation: Rinck PA. Congresses – a feeling of uncertainty (I). A look back – The case of ECR. Rinckside 2020; 31,4: 7-8.


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Rinckside • ISSN 2364-3889
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