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Written by Balaji

Medical Societies have been facing tough and turbulent times ever since we saw the Covid pandemic taking root across the world. Medical Societies have faced severe loss in revenue since the first quarter of 2020. In-person events such as conferences, seminars, training programs which are normally a money spinner for the Societies have not been held. In some cases, Medical Societies ended up cancelling scheduled in-person events due to sudden surges in infections driven by new variants such as Delta and Omicron that could not be predicted in advance. Over the years Medical Societies have contributed in improving patient care and healthcare infrastructure by working with the Government and Public Health authorities. The loss in revenue has impacted the ability of Medical Societies to contribute to these areas. Additionally, the ability of the Medical Society to spend on improving member connect is also severely impacted. It is therefore important for the Medical Societies to engage with members better to attract and retain members.

Move to the hybrid model: in-person and virtual modes

Even after the pandemic is declared officially over by the World Health Organisation and other international/national medical bodies, it is highly unlikely that members would easily switch back to a 100% in-person engagement model. There will be primarily two reasons why the switch will not be easy. Fear is a major factor. It is highly unlikely that some members will be reluctant to travel in crowded airplanes to attend conferences which again may be crowded. Social distancing may not be that easy when thousands assemble in a conference in an enclosed space. Fear will be the primary driver here given that the devastation caused by the pandemic is etched deep in the psyche. This also means that the Association will not be able to generate the kind of revenue that they made earlier. Societies will have to adopt a hybrid model as far as seminars or conferences are concerned. Members most often renew membership for the opportunity to attend conferences as well as access to the society journal. While members may feel that virtual conferences cannot replace in-person events, there will always be many members who will refrain from attending these in person due to fear. Associations will have to give the option to members to select either the in-person or virtual option for attending events in the foreseeable future. It will not be easy to change the mindset of medical professionals who have seen the devastation caused by the pandemic from close quarters. Only time will heal this. Another factor that would impact attendance in-person would be habit. As in the case of other segments of society, doctors have also adopted themselves to the changing times. They have become habituated to attending events virtually. They have also seen telemedicine can be as effective as in-person consults. Only surgeries and procedures required the physical presence of patients. Some members may not feel that the advantages of physical presence outweigh online participation. All this while maintaining the work-life balance.

Supporting the Practice: Telehealth and Online Appointment

Medical practices have been impacted severely because of the pandemic. Ever since February 2020, doctors and other healthcare professionals, at great risk to their own and their family’s lives, served patients with devotion and commitment.  Thousands of them have also succumbed to the virus across the world. Vaccinations became available only from early 2021. The only protection that doctors had till they were vaccinated was the PPE suit that they wore along with mask. This was the new normal. The medical fraternity bore the brunt of all this. Practices took a hit. Hospitals had to postpone elective surgeries. Only Covid infected patients and emergencies were attended to. Hospitals ran out of beds during the virus surges. Doctors were overstretched and under great stress. Patients were also reluctant to go to hospitals and clinics unless there was an emergency as the fear of getting infected loomed large. Telemedicine picked up some slack, but it was no where near the pre-covid days. There was also the need to maintain social distancing which meant that fewer appointments could be accepted. Health workers working in clinics and practices were also very badly impacted. Work hours were cut, and, in many cases, salaries were reduced. Some practices reported a flow of only 20-30% of the patients compared to normal times.  In some cases, practices closed, and the healthcare workers were furloughed. 

 

Medical Societies can support Members in several ways. The pandemic has changed patient behaviour. They are now more open to teleconsultation. Online appointment booking is another area where the member can benefit as they would no longer have to spend in having staff manning the phone desk to book appointments. Talk to Genamet to explore how it can help Medical Societies add value to their members.  

Support the mental wellbeing of members

Medical Societies and Associations should keep the mental health and wellbeing of healthcare professionals as one of the key tasks in these times. Members suffering from stress related disorders, anxiety, acute fear, depression, burnouts, acute emotional distress are cause for concern. The severity of distress is likely to be more among the front-line doctors and healthcare professionals who attended to severely ill covid patients. Trauma due to the severity of the infection and the high mortality rates especially during the pre-vaccination days coupled with the fear of getting infected and infecting other members of the family impacted the mental health. Added to this was the increased workload and severe work pressure. Societies can explore the option of engaging with experts in healthcare (Psychologists and Psychiatrists) and other auxiliary professionals such as experts in yoga, transcendental meditation to provide group as well as 1 on 1 therapy and counselling to members. Supportive and clinical interventions should be made available at reasonable prices to make these services attractive to the members. Psychotherapy, education, awareness, and training can be excellent interventions that the Association can offer to its members. Medical Societies should adopt technology to facilitate these. Online education, online counselling, telemedicine can be made available to members. The Society website should have a section earmarked for facilitating the wellness of its members. Social media can be an effective tool to communicate with members on the importance of mental wellness, self-care and educate members on how the Society is facilitating this.

Focus on member skills enhancement

Medical Societies play a vital role in skills enhancement of its members. Given the reduction in patient flow as a result of the pandemic, younger members will benefit if the Society lays special focus on skills enhancement. Covid has manifested in many unique challenges that doctors are seeing for the first time or used to see rarely in the past. The Medical Societies can support knowledge sharing of these unique instances. Best practices on what works best while treating these cases can also be shared with other members of the society. It is important for the Medical Society to provide credible and trusted information to its members. e-Learning can be a great option. The Society can consider investing *in curated content to address the learning and training needs of its members. Mentoring by experienced doctors can also be a good option to look at. Both the mentor and the mentee gain from such an arrangement. Restarting medical education conferences, podcasts, webinars with well-defined learning outcomes and focus on demonstrated competence can jumpstart the process of skilling the members in an accelerated fashion.  Providing continuous education is key to re-skilling and upskilling.

 Help with jobs and career development

Medical Societies can consider the option of having a career centre for its members. A good source of revenue for Societies can be to start a job board. Recruiters, research institutions, hospitals, companies and other organisations always look for specialised and niche skills which the members bring to the table.  Even if the Society chooses to not have a job board, it can look at organising in-person and virtual career networking events for its members. Prospective members are likely to be younger and with relatively less experience and therefore look forward to the Society providing jobs related services – be it job board, career counselling or training to build skills. Providing career support services is certainly an excellent way of attracting and retaining members.   

Foster community outreach

Emotional connect of members with the Medical Society is essential for deep engagement and connect. Members want to contribute and make a positive impact all around the community. Engagement is not just about how the members participate, learn, have access to specialised literature, taking up a position of responsibility within the Medical Society but goes much beyond that. Members are happy to contribute their time to make a positive impact on the community. Outreach to underprivileged or remote communities is one way of contributing. Health camps, medical check-ups, free surgical camps are other ways of reaching out to people who may not have access to skilled doctors and quality medical care.  It is important to make sure that community outreach activities are put up in the Association’s website and monthly mailer so that it motivates other members to also contribute likewise and instil a sense of pride and belongingness amongst the members. This will certainly foster stickiness.

 Conclusion

The challenges brought about by the pandemic has necessitated immediate actions that the Medical Society has to take to foster greater engagement and rebuild oneself. All these actions will also mean that the Society attracts and retains more members. The Medical Society becomes more powerful and can collectively bargain better for issues that impact the members. There will be greater attendance in events and meetings besides greater participation in all other activities promoted by the Society. The challenges that Societies face before and after the pandemic are likely to be different while we do expect many which will be the same. Reluctance to travel, ability to hold effective virtual events, e-Training would herald the changes.  Societies will have to embrace technology like never to connect and engage with members. Conferences, meetings, events will all have to be conducted in a hybrid fashion of both in-person and online attendance. Training programs will also follow suit. Members will expect Societies to contribute to taking them to the digital world. Teleconsulting will gain more acceptance. The need psychological wellbeing of members will gain more traction and we expect that there will be strong focus on this need. Members will expect value added services like a career centre to facilitate fellowships and jobs. In the future we expect Societies to look at this as an independent stream of revenue. Medical Societies will have to involve their members in community outreach and foster a sense of positive contribution. The pandemic has forced changes and reset expectations, these will evolve over the future and change the way Societies operate and contribute.

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