Visit The Largest Medical Conference In The World
Each year, a vast number of radiologists from all around the world make a post-Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Chicago for the annual Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) meeting. Not to worry, we do leave a skeleton crew behind to staff the nation’s hospitals and clinics. This is a fun post for me and I want to give the reader a peek at my experience this past week. Join me as I give you a tour of the largest medical conference in the world!
I’ve been coming to this mass gathering for the past ten years so it’s old hat for me. However, I never cease to be amazed by the new technologies presented each year and the massive logistics involved in carrying out this conference. I won’t bore you with all the scientific and technical stuff I learned this week.
RSNA is the largest medical conference in the world. Each year, over 50,000 people from 142 countries (radiologists and industry) come to teach, learn, buy, and sell everything and anything related to medical imaging. It’s like a radiology Disney World. The conference is always held in Chicago and gives the city a huge one week economic boost. Last year, the overall economic impact of RSNA to the “Windy City” was more than $128 million. The attendees book up all the downtown hotel rooms for the week (there are 44,000 rooms in downtown Chicago) and good luck getting reservations to a decent restaurant.
Getting into Chicago:
Chicago has two main airports- O’Hare and Midway. Both are almost equidistant to downtown. O’Hare is a much larger and busier airport, with an increased risk of flight delays and cancellation. (There are plans for a massive 10 year expansion project for O’Hare). Coming from California, the best option is to fly Southwest into Midway. (Midway is also expected to undergo a $322 million modernization project). I left mid afternoon on Saturday, the day after Black Friday in hopes of beating the post-holiday rush. The departing airport was surprisingly quiet so my objective was met. Arriving in Midway was a different story- the crowds and lines were huge. My Uber driver revealed that I was the fifth RSNA attendee he’d shuttled from the airport that day and for the rest of the week, he would be hanging around the conference center to feed off the radiology business like a shark feeding off a bait ball.
The conference is held at the McCormick Center which is just south of downtown. Many attendees stay in one of the numerous downtown hotels and utilize the free meeting shuttles to get around. But if you want to stay next to the meeting for convenience, there is historically only one choice- the Hyatt Regency McCormick Center. I can just roll out of bed and walk to conference, or go up for a power nap or a workout during a break in the schedule.
This year, a newly built Marriott Marquis opened next to the conference center, offering another option to lazy radiologists. I was so excited about this I had to try it out, so I split up my stay between the Hyatt and the Marquis.
The Marquis is a sleek, brand new 1205 room hotel adjacent to McCormick Center with indoor connected walkways. The grand foyer displays gigantic art pieces by Wesley Kimler.
For about the same price, the Marquis is a better value than the Hyatt. The rooms, service, and location were all top notch and I plan to make this my base of operations for all future stays. Sorry Hyatt, it was nice while it lasted.
On the first day, registration lines simulated the TSA security queues. At least it moved quickly. Attendees get a badge which identifies them as physicians or vendors. The radiologists can also accessorize their badge with ribbons labelled with all manners of titles- Lecturer, Presenter, Scientific Committee, Education Committee, Content Advisory Panel, 10 year to 40 year Member. You name it, there is a ribbon for that. I think I actually saw one that said Grand Poobah. The longer the trail of ribbons, the more important you supposedly are. Some strutted their ribbon feathers like peacocks and clearly relished in it.
Mccormick Center is the largest convention center in the nation, with 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space, 173 meeting rooms, 4 ballrooms, and a 4,200 seat theater. It’s pretty massive. Walking from one end to the other takes about 15 minutes so it helps to have your walking shoes and large water bottle.
There are 8 different shuttle routes transporting the attendees to and from their hotels throughout the day. The buses utilize the Chicago Busway, bypassing downtown traffic.
The shuttles crisscross Chicago from morning to night with runs every 15 to 30 minutes.
Every square foot of the Exhibition Hall was occupied by vendors large and small, staffed by a small army of salespeople and technicians. Behind closed doors, buyers and sellers negotiate multimillion dollar contracts for equipment purchases and service agreements.
Equipment continues to be miniaturized. Example of an ultrasound machine-
Vendors put on after hours industry events all across the city. There are symposiums, dinners, cocktail hours, pub parties, and museum receptions. In past years, some of the events would be quite extravagant. I remember one vendor would book the entire Field Museum to host their event, replete with sushi and sake stations. These days, the events are smaller and more private. This year, I attended a dinner symposium at the Chicago History Museum, a party at a ping-pong pub/club, a dinner at Gibsons, and several other pub parties. In my younger years, I’d hit as many events as I could before the sun came up. Nowadays, as soon as I lose my voice, I’m out. But hey, free entertainment with food and drink is always welcome. Actually it’s not really free because once the companies have my contact info they stalk me for the rest of the year. I find myself valuing my peace and privacy more and more each year. Next year, I’ll probably end up ordering UberEats to my room.
Chicago is probably the best city for food. There is no shortage of fantastic heart attack inducing gustatory delights. But I’m not a fancy guy. Just the basics for me.
Starting with the steakhouse. We always hit Gibsons after our annual work meeting. When you order a steak, there is no garnish, or adornment. The steak just declares itself in all its glory – ‘Here I am’. This year was no exception.
I also pay homage to the Chicago deep-dish pizza. I normally alternate between Gino’s and Giordano’s and Gino’s did not disappoint this year.
For the Italian Beef Sandwich, a visit to Portillos is my annual tradition. I couldn’t decide between the Chicago Dog or the Beef Sandwich, so I had both. Correction- the Chicago dog is just known as ‘a hot dog’, because there is no other type of dog in Chicago.
Oh yeah, the meeting-
Of course one of the reasons I come to the meeting each year is to listen to world class experts wax poetic on their subspecialty fields of expertise and any new changes that’d occurred that year. I learned that the liver cancer classification system was completely reorganized with new categories. I learned certain disease names now have new different names.
This year, I learned how AI and machine learning is going to take over many of our tasks. The media hypes that AI will replace the radiologist and make them obsolete. The reality is more toned down and nuanced. AI is in it’s early days and the data infrastructure is just not robust enough to result in a paradigm shift. In the near future, they may be a “centaur” model where there is human-machine cyberkinetic collaboration. Perhaps the mundane tasks of lesion detection and measurements will be done by machines and interpretation will be done by humans. Or image quality can be interpolated and enhanced by AI. Regardless, I think it will take some time before radiologists are completely replaced, and I will have been FIRE’d by then.
On the flight back home, I realized how little I actually know in this vast field. There is no way to know everything. Inevitably, I always come back from this meeting feeling woefully inadequate and humbled. But I do always learn a few things and try to up my game when I go back home. Come Monday, I’ll have a new pair of eyes and a bit more knowledge in my arsenal. And that is always worth going to Chicago for.
Invest in Life